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Russia’s Disaster of a War in Ukraine Means China Won’t Invade Taiwan?

China J-20
Chinese J-20 fighter.

The Lesson of Ukraine for China: Grabbing Taiwan would be Harder than it Thinks – There has been much discussion that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is an encouragement for China to consider its own land-grab – of Taiwan. Taiwan and Ukraine are indeed in similar geopolitical positions. Both are treated as dissident territories by a large, belligerent, autocratic neighbor. Both look to the US and other democracies for help but lack formal alliances with them.

Further, the position of the democratic world toward them both is ‘strategic ambiguity.’ Neither can be sure the democracies will help them. The logic is that this vagueness will discourage direct intervention by China and Russia. Simultaneously though, the democracies have sought to develop robust state capacity and military capability in Ukraine and Taiwan, to improve their ability to defend themselves and, ideally, deter Russia and/or Chinese attack.

Deterrence has obviously failed in Ukraine. The parallel concern now is that it will also fail in Taiwan, inspired by its failure in Ukraine. That is, China will learn from Russia’s attack that it too can attack, with outside military intervention precluded by its nuclear weapons. Chinese media leaks have even admitted that Russian support on Taiwan in the future is the reason Chinese media today should equivocate on the Ukraine war.

But there are alternative, more practical lessons, derived from the actual course of the war rather from deterrence theory:

A Mobilized, Patriotic People will Fight

The working assumption that Russia will defeat Ukraine, or that China will defeat Taiwan, stems from asymmetry. The size and skill of the Russian military, which spent the last decade undergoing an expensive modernization, should outweigh and outfight a middle power with a weak state and mid-size military. Indeed, Putin seemed to expect exactly this. It is now apparent he expected a blitzkrieg – a quick victory to install a pro-Russian stooge, followed by a quick withdrawal.

Instead, he collided with a wall of ferocious nationalist resistance and inspiring leadership. The Russian offensive has struggled, and it is now resorting to long-range fires which inevitably kill many civilians, tarnishing the whole effort. The Ukrainians have won over global public with tenacious courage against high odds. Its information operations have been superb. Its president has become a celebrity. The democratic election of that president means he has popular legitimacy and support. There is now a global effort to help Ukraine fight the war.

China should take note, because all this almost certainly applies in Taiwan too.

A Corrupt Military Serving a Closed Autocracy may Fight Poorly

The poor tactical performance of the Russian military has been a shock. The blame appears to lie with low morale and terrible logistics, especially in the northern drive on Kiev. Much of this has been blamed on corruption in the Russian military. The result is an impressive-looking military with vehicles lacking fuel and ammunition, or breaking down because of poor maintenance and kit; conscripts confused about what they are doing in a war, abandoning their vehicles; and a growing reliance on mercenaries.

The parallel with China is again striking. Like Russia, corruption in the Chinese state is widespread. The Chinese military is cleaner than it once was, but the People’s Liberation Army is participant in China’s for-profit economy in a way we often see in third-world militaries. Big-spending on flashy modernization is, as Russia is demonstrating, far less valuable than a professionalized military with deep, noncorrupt logistics for power projection. In the Chinese case, that functional logistics tail is even more important than in Ukraine, because China would need to mount the most complex amphibious operation since D-Day 1944 to land a sufficient force in Taiwan.

A Massive Sanctions Backlash

Finally, the democratic world has pushed back hard. Its sanctions cordon around Russia is expanding remarkably fast. Russia’s access to the SWIFT system is contracting; it may soon lose western oil markets; its currency is falling; capital flight is accelerating. Russian President Vladimir Putin will likely win his war, but it will be a pyrrhic victory.

Russia will be isolated from the global economy, probably until Putin is out of power. Russian economic growth will be set back a decade or more. Human capital flight will accelerate; Russians with resources and skills will flee. Needed foreign technologies will be inaccessible. Russia will become even more dependent on natural resource exports. And Putin will find that China, his only remaining big buyer, will insist on cut-throat prices. Putin himself will never be able to leave his country again; he may even face war crimes prosecution.

This too seems likely if China attacks Taiwan. China will also probably win. The sheer weight of Chinese power means that it can bombard the island into submission if necessary to win, just as Putin is now attacking Ukraine’s cities. But all that would likely lead to a harsh cut-off of China from the global economy. Like Russia, China still needs access to western markets to fuel its growth and access critical future technologies. Chinese President Xi Jinping is working to delink China from these markets and make China more self-sufficient, but that will take time, and in a globalized economy where new technologies and resources are scattered around the globe, it is not clear just how much China can decouple and still maintain how growth rates.

So yes, Ukraine could be a blunt-force example to China that it can just grab Taiwan. But after two weeks of Russian blunders and the rapid expulsion of Russia from the global economy, the more nuanced lesson to draw is caution. China may well be able to conquer Taiwan, but if it is anything like the Russian disaster in Ukraine, the costs will be a lot higher than the rewards.

Robert Kelly is a professor in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University in South Korea and a 1945 Contributing Editor. Follow his work on his website or at Twitter.

Written By

Dr. Robert E. Kelly (@Robert_E_Kelly; website) is a professor of international relations in the Department of Political Science at Pusan National University. Dr. Kelly is now a 1945 Contributing Editor as well. 

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. Commentar

    March 8, 2022 at 10:20 am

    Dr Kelly, too many people view others through lens set up specifically for themselves.

    In the case of Taiwan, people still dream up of visions of pla soldiers landing on Taiwan beaches a la D-Day on Normandy or USMC landings on okinawa.

    In case a takeover is unavoidable, china would use its massive rocket force to neutralize and subjugate Taiwan, especially the important pave paws radar station in north-eastern Taiwan. Not the many Hollywood dramatization methods to glory in Normandy or okinawa.

    Anyway, Biden has failed to learn lessons of history, nevertheless, it’s highly unlikely the dudes in Beijing are keen to follow his ways.

  2. Alex

    March 8, 2022 at 10:27 am

    It is interesting how educated a person (and generally educated) should be when he claims about a catastrophe when the special operation has not yet been completed, goes according to plan and Ukraine loses territory, equipment and soldiers every day. Where is it taught?

  3. Jacky

    March 8, 2022 at 10:30 am

    D-Day of 1944 in Normandy, France has been given immense play in the print media and Hollywood productions down the years, but few people, even today, know that there were numerous D-Days in the Pacific war theater which saw heavier A. casualties than Normandy.

    And let’s not forget the Normandy counterpart on the eastern front, which was the red army’s Operation Bagration. This thing wiped out something like 50 German divisions out of existence and severely mauled many more.

  4. Commentar

    March 8, 2022 at 10:39 am

    Russia will eventually crush banderite ukraine, and very possibly set up a free and independent ukraine, a democratic people’s republic of ukrainia, or something that sounds similar.

    Already,russian forces are inside Mariupol and sumy, but the news have been heavily suppressed by western media. Kyiv is expected to fall by month’s end, if not earlier, and therefore where will the banderites go.

    Banderites will hunker down in western ukraine and border areas adjacent to poland. But Russia will leave them alone to ponder the folly of obeying Biden and stoltenberg.

  5. Commentar

    March 8, 2022 at 10:48 am

    Many people in the highly authoritative media outlets of the west loudly proclaim that Russia will now be reduced to becoming a stooge of Beijing as a result of Biden’s sanctions.

    Funnily enough,vfor all their cleverness, they are unable to take even a very quick or lightning fast look at north Korea.

    North Korea is heavily dependent on china, but it’s no stooge or lackey of Beijing very unlike Seoul’s relationship with Washington.

    In fact, north Korea’s nukes pose more of a danger to china itself than to Seoul or Tokyo.

  6. Slack

    March 8, 2022 at 10:54 am

    China can’t be compared to the European model, specifically the ukraine case because, china simply doesn’t need to use force against a recalcitrant Taiwan.

    All china HAS TO DO is block all flights to and from Taiwan that transit mainland’s airspace and wait for the outcome.

    Similarly, it could dent Japan’s rising militarism and its increasingly assertive foreign policy by doing the same thing and see how Japan’s economy’s going to survive.

  7. FRAZIER STALL

    March 8, 2022 at 11:07 am

    The author in this article lumps Russia and china together, like proclaiming UK is a mirror copy of US.

    Russia and china are allies, and of course, both face the same threats from the global conquistador force. But you can’t lump china and russia in the same drawer.

    Russia has the largest landmass in the world and possesses the largest nuclear arsenal ever and capable of incinerating US twice over.

    In other hand, China, in PPP (purchasing power parity) terms, is the largest economy in the world. It is also the world’s largest manufacturer and exporter. It also has the world’s largest population (though soon to be dethroned by India) and carries numerous other superlatives to it’s name (google it).

    Thus lumping them together is too simplistic and gives rise to highly erroneous opinion.

  8. FRAZIER STALL

    March 8, 2022 at 11:20 am

    US and UK can be lumped together, not because UK is a mirror copy of US, or that UK is as powerful and/or as big as US, but for the simple fact that UK is virtually acceptable to be readily considered as the 51st state of america.

    Thus one can lump UK and US together. The two use same language, same norms and cultural habits, share same predilection to sneer at most non-anglos, even share same type of nukes and also membership of ‘the five-eyes.’

  9. Slack

    March 8, 2022 at 11:52 am

    Russia and china, both these two countries, don’t have the misfortune of an 80-year-old man who’s ravaged by dementia sitting stoutly at the helm.

    But the US has the decadently cantankerous Biden in the white house and his stubborn pettishness has resulted in the russo-ukraine war of 2022.

    Biden has learned nothing from history, not even lessons from the short (very short) history of his own country.

    In the late thirties, US was eager for war, and naturally, the nearest or closest target was Japan which was then running completely amuck in china.

    To trap this target, the US at first went easy on japan, not mentioning any incidents or acts of atrocity or wrondoing. Even when it invaded northern Indochina in 1940, US grumbled carefully and measuredly and imposed a pseudo embargo.

    But as Japan fell deeper into the trap due to the soft or easy going manner of US, Washington in late 1941 hit it with a severe embargo that was rigidly imposed. Cornered, Japan began negotiating in earnest, but in late November 1941, it got hit squarely right in the forehead by the infamous ‘hull note’ which was really just a long list of non-negotiable demands by US.

    Stung by the harsh hull note ultimatum, Japan’s leaders opted for war and ordered it’s carrier fleet to set sail for Hawaii. The trap was set.

    Today, Biden has set the trap for himself, going too far by acting cantankerously and refusing to meet reasonable demands by Russia. Now, Biden finds himself in a corner, unable to back away, since ukraine is embroiled in war, and US forces will ultimately be drawn in, and whammo, it’s ww3 in Europe.

  10. Jacky

    March 8, 2022 at 12:04 pm

    Russia is very much in the running for victory in ukraine, not ‘losing’ as suggested in this article and in many articles regurgitated in USA and even in news flash reports by ‘international’ news organizations like ‘Reuters.’ Seems that they have thorougly confused winning with losing.

    Russia has whacked an airport in western ukraine that was being used to ferry NATO weapons into ukraine,candy it has upset the banderitites who screamed bloody murder and genocide. It is clear the ukraine war is currently the latest proxy war in a list of proxy wars of Washington.

    Victory is much assured for the russian forces despite a huge repertoire of reports to the contrary. Biden is going to lose his marbles on this.

  11. Jacky

    March 8, 2022 at 12:20 pm

    Deterrence is a much highly bandied word in western military circles, with most authors blissfully unaware that with the US and vassals pointing weapons at very close range at other countries, deterrence is the gist or heart of their very survival.

    The US has the fondness or tendency to forward base its weapons, including its best and/or latest ones, in the territories of its minions.

    These areas are naturally next door to enemies, rivals, recalcitrant capitals or just simply nations that refuse to lick uncle sam’s boots.

    Thus deterrence is a precious commodity or asset to such nations that refuse to lick washington’s dirty sticky boots. Admittedly, licking his boots provide access to dollars and even the gold in fort Knox. But not all nations want to sell body and soul to uncle Sam. Deterrence, baby !

  12. Jimmy John Doe

    March 8, 2022 at 12:33 pm

    Corruption is the disease that has brought down many states propped up by mountains of greenbacks, like in south Vietnam, in Afghanistan and, hell, even in Persia (Iran revolution) and Europe (right-wing govt in Greece), too.

    In US, in 2020, the US spent over US$14 billion for the grand election, and what did it get for the massive mountain of money? An old man, an old old man with half his leg or foot already in the family’s private 6-foot deep plot.

    The smell of money is the smell of corruption and this is why some nations are shifting over to digital currencies which are highly easy to monitor and track.

    US, and countries like Greece, mexico, Haiti and minion states like UK still prefer physical money or corruption money or ghost money. Look it up. Ghost money, or stacks of greenbacks in black suitcases.

  13. Commentar

    March 8, 2022 at 12:50 pm

    People who subscribe to stories peddled by western media or msm are likely to endure forgetfulness.

    They tend to forget the realities never or seldom rehashed by the msm outlets like the simple fact that war disasters or disasters of war happen because the bigger power lacks determination and therefore loses while the weaker or smaller guy wins because he refuses to go down evrn though wetted through and through by his own blood.

    In the case of the ukraine war, russia is determined to protect the donbass region amd to secure a land corridor to crinea region, while the US-backed banderitites are more eager for western donations, world bank donations and IMF donations and western social media contributions and the like, not determination to be free of dependence on the tits of lady mistress washington and her maids.

  14. Slack

    March 8, 2022 at 1:10 pm

    Joe Biden is truly a disaster for the world because he is acting as though he’s the new-age genghis or modern genghis.

    Today, he has followed very faithfully the clarion call of the god of genghis, in the present case, this god is the deep state ruling cabal, the entity that controls all life in the US.

    The cabal requires Biden to divide our world into two camps, one camp already dominated and controlled by US and the other one that is regarded as still free from US control.

    Ultimately, this two-camp division will lead to an astounding collision, or a massive all-out war involving nukes. This is the real disaster awaiting mankind now.

  15. Chris Kyle

    March 8, 2022 at 1:28 pm

    the russian troll farms tears are delicious.

  16. Slack

    March 8, 2022 at 1:34 pm

    Nineteen-fortyfivedotcom readers should properly prepare for what Biden has prepared for us, despite his shrinking-by-each-passing-day brain.

    With Biden’s sanctions, the world is soon going to welcome shortages, community panic, and even ‘self-defence’ shootings and killings.

    Shortages of food like bread and breakfast cereals, cooking oil and meat due to lack of corn in the world market.

    Shortage of jobs and loss of income, as plants and factories close down due to supply chain problems and rise in inflation and crime.

    Hackers and cyber warriors will have a field day, thanks to Biden and his plans.

    All these will be accompanied by general panic as people move from store to store and from ATMs to ATMs, breaking and smashing and creating bedlam.

    To avoid such trouble, people need to stock up your larder and to keep ample cash at home. Don’t wait for the curtain to rise before taking action. Biden can’t help you by then.by then he’d probably unreachable or perhaps in Acapulco with hunter ‘n’ family and friends and living it up.

  17. Chris Kyle

    March 8, 2022 at 8:11 pm

    more russian troll farm tears pls so delicious.

  18. Alex

    March 9, 2022 at 10:44 am

    Give Chris a Xanax, he’s hysterical.

  19. TRM

    March 9, 2022 at 12:59 pm

    I’d say you’re underestimating the difficulty of invading Taiwan, probably badly. For a start, Ukraine doesn’t have the Taiwan Strait between it and Russia.

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