Ukraine-Taiwan conflict has shaken the post-covid world recovering from the damage done by the pandemic. Ukraine and Taiwan are currently the centers of geopolitical confrontation between four major world powers – the US, EU, China, and Russia. Located in the center of two fault lines, Ukraine and Taiwan have multiple factors that make them similar and different from each other simultaneously.
The two countries‘ main similarity is their location in zones, where the geopolitical and geo-economic interests of the four major powers clash. Ukraine is positioned in the European fault line where Russia’s anxiety over perceived NATO expansion motivated Russian aggression. Taiwan is situated in the Indo-Pacific region, currently falling in the US geopolitical interests.
The emergence of these conflicts post-Covid-19 pandemic has greatly disturbed multiple supply chains and the provision of crucial commodities in different parts of the world. Also, both China and Russia view Taiwan and Ukraine, respectively, as territories vital to their national interests, to counter the hegemony of the West, and have the geopolitical upper hand in terms of resources, secured borders, and geographical leverage.
Disinformation and propaganda are also essential factors in both conflicts. China’s using social media implies that what happened in Ukraine will be repeated in Taiwan. It claims that the US will not come to the defense of Taiwan. On the other hand, Russia is using disinformation to stroke anger in the Russian people and the world against Ukraine by using stories of Ukraine using dirty bombs or by classifying Russian aggression as the de-Nazification of Ukraine.
Russian war against Ukraine also has grave economic ramifications. Prices of natural gas, crude oil, food commodities, fertilizers, and many other essential commodities increased. According to the World Economic Forum report on food security, prices of commodities like vegetable oils have also soared. Wheat inventories have started depleting, and stocks of other foods have also declined. Higher fertilizer prices resulted in reduced crop yields, disproportionately affecting the countries of the Global South. This put enormous pressure on the potential for economic recovery after the previous disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to IMF, economies relying on oil imports will witness wider fiscal and trade deficits and more inflation pressure. The growth rates of the world’s economies further decelerated due to the war.
An invasion by China of Taiwan, on top of the ongoing Russian war against Ukraine, would be catastrophic for the world, China included. Russia didn’t anticipate the level of external support Ukraine had received in its defense efforts and thought the war would end in a week. A similar trend can be expected in the case of Taiwan. It may seem that invading Taiwan will be an easy task. However, it will prove to be fateful for everyone involved, especially China, which is already struggling with a supply chain crisis and the impacts of continuing COVID-19 pandemic.
China’s invasion of Taiwan would be economic for them and the world. Taiwan’s companies contribute approximately 60% of the world’s semiconductors production. Taiwan also calls its 147bn semiconductor industry the pillar of its economy, contributing almost 15% of its GDP and 40% of its total exports. Taiwan is the producer of the world’s most advanced chips and contributes immensely to the global supply chains through different products like cars, mobiles, laptops, the aviation sector, and consumer technology. The semiconductor industry also contributes to the defense sector and military hardware.
At the moment when manufacturing industries are recovering from the losses that occurred with COVID-19, China attacking Taiwan and destroying its productive capacity would not only prove to be disastrous for Taiwan but also for China. China is dealing with an economic slowdown, needs semiconductors for its multiple uses, and might want to think before taking any violent steps.
Another factor that might be able to deter China is US’s continued interest in Taiwan. The West, especially the US, is supporting Ukraine in several ways. Engaging with US-backed Taiwan in the Indo-Pacific may similarly backfire for China and cost it more than anticipated. Russia has been dealing with sanctions and economic restrictions since 2014 and has now built a more self-sustaining, and isolated economy. Unlike Russia, China is much more integrated into the global economy. Hence, sanctions on China would likely further push the Chinese economy into a slowdown.
Conflict of Geopolitical Interests
Another factor that might play a crucial role in China’s case is the image it has created on the world stage. China has always tried to paint the US as the hegemon and wanted to present itself as a better, alternative member who treats all other countries equally. China wants to be perceived as a world leader. Human rights abuses in Xinjiang, the Zero-Covid policy, and human rights violations are some issues that proved fatal for China’s global leadership image. Attacking Taiwan, disrupting semiconductor production, and disrupting supply chains will not be considered a good step by the country aiming to be a world leader. The deterioration of Russia’s image as a global pariah should be evidence that an invasion of Taiwan would probably make it impossible for China to assume a leading role in the world. Putin might have been willing to bear the cost of attacking Ukraine – economic, political, and reputational. However, a country like China, which substantially invested in its soft power and the global image would need to bear much larger reputational costs.
Taiwan is facing a complex situation. Witnessing Ukraine fighting for its sovereignty has alerted Taiwan, and it is preparing for any anticipated war conditions. However, a country should be prepared to make it through troubled times and must keep its defense mechanisms ready. Taiwan knows what kind of thin ice it is walking on and understands the gravity of the situation. Even though it does not possess advanced military weapons and an army equipped with all equipped and trained. However, what can be learned from this situation is that it is ready to fight off the enemy despite being a small island nation.
Secondly, over-dependence on a foreign nation does not assure victory. A country can’t expect another country to fight its war when the enemy is the world’s fastest-growing economy. There are chances of backing off and insufficient help that might lead to the failure of the defense effort. Therefore, to survive in a realist world, “self-reliance”, or “Atmanirbharta”, as India says, is the best way out of such conflicts. Atmanirbharta not only gives you confidence but also brings integration into your system, where your manufacturing industry, on the path of becoming self-sufficient, works to fulfill your country’s demand.
Lastly, along with the US, other developed countries should also try to come up and oppose China’s policy. After avoiding stating the issue, Japan’s stance over Taiwan in 2021 was remarkable. In an event hosted by the Hudson Institute, Japanese deputy defense minister Yasuhide Nakayama emphasized the need to “protect Taiwan as a democratic country.” The absenteeism of other developed nations and regional powers has projected the US as the only power that seems to be bothered by Taiwan’s condition. Multilateral institutions, especially the UN and its organs, must consider the issue and recognize Taiwan as an independent country to show and garner other countries‘ support. Support from multilateral institutions will help Taiwan in two ways- getting recognition as an independent country and struggling to get rid of outside control over its sovereignty and will help Taiwan become part of multiple forums, institutions, platforms, economic and trade groups and strengthen its economy, get self-reliant and minimize its dependence on China for its economic and security related activities. It will also help Taiwan diversify its business portfolio and create demand for its flourishing semiconductor industry globally, not just in China. Taiwan must take the initiative to make all this happen while keeping its democratic trait alive, which will push other countries to help it.
Neeraj Singh Manhas is the Director of Research in the Indo-Pacific Consortium at Raisina House, New Delhi. He has authored three books and has diverse research interests covering Sino-Indian border issues, China in the Indian Ocean; India-China Foreign Policy; Water security; Defence, and Indo-Pacific studies. His recently edited book is “Analysing the Current Afghan Context” (Routledge 2022). His writings have appeared in the Institute for Security & Development Policy (ISDP), Observer Research Foundation (ORF), Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, The Hindu Business Line, The Pioneer, Financial Express, and other online platforms.