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What Can Taiwan Learn from the Evolution of the Russia-Ukraine Situation?


The Deputy Director of Xiamen University’s Taiwan Research Center argues that while Beijing’s preference remains to “reunify” peacefully, Taiwan “separatists” and the United States are “touching the red line drawn by the mainland.”

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I. “Today Ukraine, tomorrow Taiwan:” Emotions are running high


As many wise people at home and abroad have long warned, Russia-Ukraine relations and the Russia and Ukraine situation, which had been tense for years, have regrettably and disturbingly evolved into a state of war that the world did not want to see. On February 24, 2022, Russia launched a special military operation against Ukraine, which is still ongoing. The conflagration has left Ukraine devastated and a large number of refugees displaced.


As expected, the United States and NATO—the authors of today’s Russia-Ukraine relations and the Russia-Ukraine situation—have refused to defend Ukraine militarily and will never send troops to protect it, although they have joined some of their so-called allies in launching public condemnations, economic sanctions, and diplomatic coercion against Russia. On the contrary, they are making a fortune off the war, and, by prolonging the Russia-Ukraine war, are attempting to further weaken Russia and coerce the EU into maintaining their hegemony and interests.


Although the United States has called on the international community to join it in condemning and sanctioning Russia, few have responded, and most countries and regions have looked on indifferently. Despite Ukraine’s so-called stubborn resistance, Russia, which has seized the strategic initiative, has not stopped its action, and will certainly achieve its strategic goals. One can anticipate that post-war Ukraine will not only be yet more devastated, but will no longer be the pre-war Ukraine, and further division of the country is inevitable. In fact, it is well known that Ukraine, which has been consistently pro-U.S. and tried to join NATO for nearly 20 years, getting weaker all the way, is no longer the Ukraine that emerged from the former Soviet Union when it collapsed.


At present, there is unprecedented hostility across the Taiwan Strait and tension in the Taiwan Strait. The special military operation launched by Russia against Ukraine, the performance of the United States and NATO, the reaction of the international community, and the tragic situation and future of Ukraine have triggered a high degree of concern among the people and public opinion on the island from the outset. The doubts, worries, anxiety, and even panic of Taiwan’s people have also exploded on the island’s social media. “Today Ukraine, tomorrow Taiwan”—Many people in Taiwan are beginning to worry that Taiwan may in the future turn into today’s war-torn Ukraine. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) authorities and political forces in Taiwan that seek “Taiwan independence” secession, as well as those Taiwanese people who support Taiwan independence and secession, appear to be calm in the face of today’s tragic situation in Ukraine, but they are actually in a constant state of panic!


II. “Today Ukraine, tomorrow Taiwan:” Concerns are not excessive


Strictly speaking, it is of course very inappropriate to use Russia-Ukraine relations and the Russia-Ukraine issue to view cross-Strait relations and the Taiwan Strait issue. Cross-Strait relations and the Taiwan Strait issue are fundamentally different from Russia-Ukraine relations and the Russia-Ukraine issue. Russia-Ukraine relations are relations between sovereign states; cross-Strait relations are relations between different regions of the same sovereign state, China. The Russia-Ukraine issue is a matter of one sovereign state’s diplomatic behavior endangering the security of another sovereign state, while the Taiwan Strait issue is a matter of China’s Taiwan region colluding with external forces in an attempt to split from China and undermine China’s sovereignty, security, development, and other core national interests.


Although cross-Strait relations and the Taiwan Strait issue are fundamentally different from Russia-Ukraine relations and the Russia-Ukraine issue, if Taiwan continues down the path of independence and secession, the state of the Russia-Ukraine situation today will likely appear at the Taiwan Strait level tomorrow. “Today Ukraine, tomorrow Taiwan” is not impossible! That is because the mainland has a firm bottom line and has drawn a red line, and the “Taiwan independence” forces that are trying to overstep the mainland’s bottom line are touching the red line drawn by the mainland.


1. The mainland has a bottom line and a red line, and “Taiwan independence” secession means war

Mainland China considers peaceful reunification to be in the best interest of the Chinese nation and the country as a whole, and is therefore willing to do its best to achieve it, but that is based on the fact that both sides of the Taiwan Strait have always agreed that the two sides belong to the same country and are willing to reunify and meet each other half way. Moreover, mainland China has principles and a bottom line, and will never sit on its hands while the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces and international anti-China forces collude to split Taiwan from China.


In fact, mainland China’s attitude toward cross-Strait relations and the Taiwan Strait issue is consistent: It believes that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to the same China and that the Taiwan Strait issue is an internal Chinese issue, and it strives as much as possible for peaceful reunification of the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. However, it will not hesitate to use force to oppose “Taiwan independence” and the intervention of external forces in order to safeguard the country’s territorial integrity and defend national sovereignty, security, and development interests. Mainland China has repeatedly stated that “Taiwan independence” means war.


In practice, mainland China has already adopted the Anti-Secession Law, which clearly stipulates the three circumstances under which non-peaceful means and other necessary measures may be used: (1) The “Taiwan independence” secessionist forces act under any name or by any means to cause the fact of Taiwan’s secession from China, (2) major incidents entailing Taiwan’s secession from China occur, or (3) possibilities for a peaceful reunification are completely exhausted. When any one of these three circumstances occurs, mainland China must take non-peaceful and other necessary measures to deal with the Taiwan Strait issue and achieve cross-Strait reunification.


After all, achieving complete national reunification and the great rejuvenation of the nation are the two great historical tasks to be accomplished by the middle of this century. Both peaceful and non-peaceful methods are only means for achieving complete national reunification, and they have to be used according to the circumstances.


Moreover, China’s overall strength and military power have made significant gains since 1949, especially since the beginning of reform and opening up. It has firmly grasped leadership and the initiative in cross-Strait relations, and is now capable of resolving the Taiwan issue and achieving national reunification under any circumstances.


As Xi Jinping, General Secretary of the CCP Central Committee, President of the State and Chairman of the Central Military Commission, pointed out and warned in his speech at a meeting marking the 110th anniversary of the Revolution of 1911, “The Chinese nation has a glorious tradition of opposing secession and preserving unity. The separatist attempt to seek ‘Taiwan independence’ is the biggest obstacle to the unification of the motherland and a serious hidden danger to the rejuvenation of the nation. Those who forget their ancestors, betray the motherland, and split the country will never come to a good end, but will be spurned by the people and judged by history! The issue of Taiwan is purely China’s internal affair, one which brooks no external interference. No one should underestimate the strong determination, firm will, and powerful ability of the Chinese people to defend national sovereignty and territorial integrity! The historical task of the complete reunification of the motherland must be achieved, and it definitely can be achieved!”


2. “Taiwan independence” forces, in collusion with external forces, are touching the red line and challenging the bottom line

On May 1, 2021, the British magazine The Economist published a cover article entitled “The Most Dangerous Place on Earth,” which declared that Taiwan is “the most dangerous place in world.” As early as March 2021, Philip Davidson, Commander of the United States Indo-Pacific Command, told the U.S. Congress that mainland China would resolve the Taiwan issue by force as early as 2027.


The reason why Davidson made such a statement to Congress was obviously to “cry wolf” in order to ask for a bigger military budget and induce Taiwan to buy more weapons from the United States, as well as to shape public opinion so that the United States will continue its deep involvement in the Taiwan Strait to achieve its strategic objectives. The British media calling Taiwan “the most dangerous place in the world” may be a case of knowing what is true but not knowing why.


The fact is, countries and institutions claiming that “peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait are of paramount importance,” and that peace in the Taiwan Strait may change, do so mostly for their own selfish purposes; and they only see Chinese ships and aircraft frequently circling Taiwan and crossing the so-called “median line of the Taiwan Strait,” but deliberately do not explain the reasons for this. Perhaps they are pretending to be confused, and are confusing the public in the hopes of blaming mainland China for the current tensions in the Taiwan Strait!


In fact, the position and claims of mainland China on achieving national reunification have long been clearly stated. That is, “Chinese people do not fight Chinese people,” but the precondition is that the Taiwan side follows the norms of its so-called “Constitution of the Republic of China” with regard to the two sides of the Taiwan Strait belonging to the same China, does not engage in “Taiwan independence” separatist activities, and meets the mainland halfway. In other words, they identify themselves as “Chinese,” do not become “enemies of the Chinese” who split the country and harm national interests, and take measures to promote peaceful reunification across the Taiwan Strait. As is well known, in order to safeguard the core interests of the country in terms of territory, sovereignty, security and development, all necessary means, including non-peaceful means, can be used to deal with enemies who would split the country and harm national interests. This is also the rule followed by the mainstream international community, including the United States.


In reality, the main reason why the Taiwan Strait is currently experiencing stormy weather, and Taiwan is becoming “the most dangerous place in the world” and may become like “today’s Ukraine,” is not mainland China’s so-called intention to use force to achieve national reunification, nor is it mainland China’s so-called intention to change the international order to dominate regional affairs in the Asia-Pacific region. Rather, it is the result of Taiwan’s “Taiwan independence” separatist forces and the United States and other international anti-China forces who, in order to achieve their own political and strategic ambitions, are colluding in a vain attempt to change the nature of the two sides of the strait as belonging to the same China, split Taiwan from China, and obstruct the nation’s development and rejuvenation, thus seriously undermining China’s core interests in terms of territory, sovereignty, security, and development.


We all know that as mainland China continues to rise under reform and opening up, the gaps between its GDP and overall power and those of the United States are becoming narrower, its participation in international affairs is growing, and its influence in the international community is becoming greater. The United States not only believes that its previous policy of engagement and exchange with China aimed at peaceful evolution has failed, but also that the rise of mainland China is generally detrimental to the United States’ hegemonic strategy and national interests, and it has therefore turned to a policy of strategic competition aimed at curbing, containing, and suppressing China. Beginning with the Trump administration, the United States has intensified its efforts to curb, contain, and suppress mainland China by using various kinds of leverage and conditions— constantly touching the red line in China-U.S. relations, and playing the “Taiwan card” more frequently and with greater intensity, including more advanced arms sales to Taiwan, more high-level official visits to Taiwan, and more frequent ship and aircraft arrivals, in a vain attempt to “use Taiwan to control China.” This constantly gives the wrong signal of supporting “Taiwan independence” separatist forces, but also directly infringes on China’s territory, sovereignty, and security, and endangers the peace and stability of the Taiwan Strait. Mainland China has no choice but to take countermeasures.


Meanwhile, the DPP, which came to power on May 20, 2016, has not only unilaterally overturned the “1992 Consensus” previously reached across the Taiwan Strait to maintain the peaceful development of cross-Strait relations, but has also taken advantage of its “full rule” to stir up “Taiwan independence” secessionist activities. It has also taken advantage of the opportunities presented by the United States’ strategic adjustment towards China and playing of the “Taiwan card” to collude with the United States and other international anti-China forces to seek Taiwan’s independence, contain the development of mainland China, and undermine the country’s core interests in terms of territory, sovereignty, security, and development, thereby turning itself into an enemy of China. In view of this, in order to safeguard the country’s core interests in terms of territory, sovereignty, security, and development, mainland China has no choice but to take some necessary measures, including military actions, against the “Taiwan independence” secessionist forces and the hostile actions of external anti-China forces.


This is the main reason why Chinese ships and aircraft have frequently circled Taiwan and crossed the so-called “median line of the Taiwan Strait” in recent years, and why Taiwan is becoming the “most dangerous place in the world.” As we all know, in defending the core interests of national territory, sovereignty, security, and development, the will of mainland China is rock-solid, and China has been very consistent. If the United States and other international anti-China forces continue to play the “Taiwan card,” and if “Taiwan independence” secessionist forces continue to engage in “Taiwan independence” secessionist activities, China’s ships and aircraft will continue to frequently circle Taiwan and cross the so-called “median line of the Taiwan Strait.” Moreover, in the event that the international anti-China forces and the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces cross the bottom line that both sides of the Taiwan Strait belong to the same China, and if they touch the red line defined by the Anti-Secession Law, they will receive a devastating blow by military force from mainland China. The so-called “today Ukraine, tomorrow Taiwan” will then surely become a reality!


III. A pawn that is bound to be sacrificed


In fact, the DPP and other “Taiwan independence” separatist forces on the island, and the Taiwan authorities, have always been very clear in their own minds about several facts: First, if they want “Taiwan independence” secession, they must face a war in the Taiwan Strait. Second, unless they are sure that they can win, the people of Taiwan will not want a war , and will not support the authorities in power. Third, Taiwan’s own strength cannot resist unification and seek independence, or ensure the security of Taiwan, and it would need the United States-led international anti-China forces to send troops to protect Taiwan. Fourth, the United States-led international anti-China forces will not lightly send troops to protect Taiwan.


Therefore, the DPP and other “Taiwan independence” separatist forces and the Taiwan authorities are trying to seize the current opportunity of the United States’ strategic adjustment towards China to “rely on the United States to seek independence.” To this end, the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces and the Taiwan authorities are not only clinging to the United States’ knees, but are also willing to be the pawns and game pieces in the United States’ efforts to curb, contain, and suppress mainland China. Moreover, they are actively sowing discord between China and the United States in an attempt to bring about an early break in China-U.S. relations, while also trying to completely drag down and trap the United States, which is playing the “Taiwan card” out of strategic competition with China, so that it will be forced to send troops to protect Taiwan when the two sides of the Strait meet on the battlefield.


So, will the United States send troops to protect Taiwan? At present, the United States is indeed using various kinds of leverage and conditions, including playing the “Taiwan card”, to try to curb, contain, and suppress China’s rise. This presents a possible opportunity to the “Taiwan independence” elements and Taiwan authorities, who have been expecting to receive U.S. support. However, the United States has always practiced international realism and chosen to act based on consideration of its own interests. The United States will weigh how to play the “Taiwan card” and what kind of “Taiwan card” to play based on realism and the pros and cons. When the disadvantages of playing a certain “Taiwan card” outweigh the benefits, the United States will not consider playing it or will stop playing it.


How the United States plays the “Taiwan card” in practice depends mainly on a balancing of its strategic competition-based attempts to curb, contain, and suppress China’s rise with its goal of reaping the huge practical benefits that maintaining diplomatic relations with China brings. On one hand, it tries to “use Taiwan to control China” to help achieve its strategic competition objectives, and on the other, it tries to use the method as a bargaining chip to help gain greater actual benefits from the China-U.S. diplomatic relationship. This dictates that the United States will play the “Taiwan card” to the extent that there will be no showdown and no severing of diplomatic relations. Therefore, it will not establish so-called diplomatic relations with Taiwan. This is why the United States, which has implemented a policy of strategic competition with China, has claimed to adhere to the one-China policy from the Trump administration to the Biden administration.


As for the claim that the United States would send troops to protect Taiwan, it is even more of a fantasy. A typical manifestation of the U.S. practice of international realism is in considering whether to put warfare means on the agenda. At present, although the China-U.S. differences are hard to reconcile, the power of each side to destroy the other gives the United States, with its pursuit of international realism, no choice but to give up resorting to a direct warfare solution. And today, with the rise of mainland China, international factors such as the United States are no longer the main force in determining whether the two sides of the Taiwan Strait can be unified. As the RAND Corporation and other U.S. think tanks have repeatedly concluded in war games, although China is still unable to match the United States in overall military power, the United States no longer has an advantage in near-shore operations such as in the Taiwan Strait. In fact, if mainland China wants to use force to crack down on the “Taiwan independence” forces and solve the Taiwan issue, even if the United States-led international anti-China forces were to form a coalition to protect Taiwan, it would be to no avail. This is also the fundamental reason why the United States maintains so-called “strategic ambiguity” on the issue of defending Taiwan.


In short, the United States and other Western countries practice international realism, and decide how to play the “Taiwan card” based on their own interests. Today, with mainland China rising, Taiwan is not the core interest of these countries, but only their card or pawn. Therefore, these countries will certainly not risk sacrificing the benefits of maintaining diplomatic relations with mainland China or risk sacrificing the lives of their own people to send troops to protect Taiwan. At the most there will only be public opinion condemnation, economic sanctions, diplomatic pressure, and weapons support. Once the Taiwan issue is resolved, it will not be long before these realist countries inevitably face up to and acknowledge the reality, and seek to re-establish good diplomatic relations with China, based on their own interests. Taiwan is thus a pawn that is bound to be sacrificed.


IV. Take Ukraine’s recent example as a warning


The Russia-Ukraine conflict has proven that the United States has been using Ukraine as cannon fodder from beginning to end, and Ukraine has foolishly been used as cannon fodder by the United States, leading to the destruction of lives and souls. When Ukraine asked the United States for help, the United States only made public condemnations and put economic sanctions on Russia, but refused to defend Ukraine militarily, and was not about to send troops to protect Ukraine. Instead, it took the opportunity to sell soon-to-be-obsolete weapons and soon-to-expire ammunition to Ukraine and make a fortune off the war, and is attempting to further weaken Russia and divide Europe by prolonging the war. This then is the self-interested, realist United States!


One can further predict that once Ukraine loses its value to the United States, the United States will quickly remove even the current public condemnations and economic sanctions. After all, the United States did not condemn and sanction Russia for the sake of Ukraine’s interests or for the sake of any so-called justice and morality. Moreover, such condemnations and sanctions are actually not conducive to or even detrimental to U.S. national interests.


Presumably, the people of Taiwan, the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces, and the Taiwan authorities are watching the self-inflicted tragedy of Ukraine and the manifestation of U.S. realism and self-interest. A new poll released by the Taiwan Public Opinion Foundation on March 22 shows that the Russia-Ukraine conflict has caused more Taiwanese to disbelieve that the U.S. military will help defend Taiwan, with those who believe plummeting to 34 percent from 65 percent six months earlier, a drop of up to 30 percent. The foundation’s chairman, Ying-lung You, said the percentage of Taiwanese who believe the U.S. military will assist their defense plummeted 30.5 percentage points in just six months, while those who believe the U.S. military is unlikely to assist in defense shot up 27.4 percentage points. This is an extremely unusual shift in collective attitudes. It fully demonstrates that the experience of Ukraine fighting alone has had a huge impact on Taiwan’s hearts and minds, and can be dubbed the “Ukraine Situation Effect.” According to the poll, as many as 60% of Taiwanese people are worried about Taiwan becoming “a second Ukraine.” The Russia-Ukraine conflict is still ongoing, but the poll shows that most of Taiwan’s people have shifted from having confidence in the United States sending troops to defend Taiwan to a collapse of confidence. A big shift in Taiwan’s collective attitude was expected. It is just that the “Taiwan independence” forces are not willing or inclined to face it.

乌克兰自作自受的惨状与美国现实主义、利己主义的表现,想必台湾民众以及“台独”分裂势力与台湾当局应是看在眼里了。台湾民意基金会3月22日发布的一份最新民调显示,俄乌冲突让更多台湾人不相信美军会协防台湾,相信的人从半年前的65%骤降到34%,降幅高达三成。该基金会董事长游盈隆说,台湾人相信美军会协防的比例在短短半年间暴跌30.5个百分点、认为美军不可能协防的激增27.4个百分点,这是极端不寻常的集体态度的大转变,充分显示乌克兰孤军作战的经验对台湾人心产生巨大冲击,可称为“乌克兰情境效应”。 该次民意调查显示,担心台湾成为“乌克兰第二”的台湾民众已高达六成。俄乌冲突仍在进行之中,但民意调查显示,大部分台湾民众对美国出兵护台,已由有信心,转为信心崩盘。台湾集体态度出现大转变,在外界意料之中,只是“台独”势力目前不愿也不想面对而已。

As mentioned earlier, the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces know that it is impossible to achieve a “Taiwan independence” secession attempt by Taiwan’s own strength, and they have to rely on the support of external forces led by the United States. In particular, they need external forces led by the United States to send troops to protect Taiwan in order to assure that Taiwan will be able to split from China peacefully.


However, the United States and other Western countries have always practiced international realism and will decide whether to support “Taiwan independence” secession by weighing the pros and cons of doing so. In particular, when it comes to sending troops to protect Taiwan or not, they will evaluate the strength of the military power that China and the United States can put into the Taiwan Strait.


In the face of mainland China’s rise, the relationship of interdependent interests formed between China and the United States in the course of globalization, and the contrast between the military power that China and the United States can project in the Taiwan Strait, the United States will have no choice but to adhere to its “one-China policy” in order to maintain diplomatic relations with mainland China, and will have to maintain its “strategic ambiguity” toward Taiwan, not daring to explicitly commit to sending troops to protect Taiwan.


To sum up, Taiwan should note that mainland China has the will, determination, and ability to oppose “Taiwan independence” secession and achieve national reunification. It should note that mainland China has a firm bottom line, that secession will definitely bring war, that the United States (and other external forces) cannot be relied on at all, and that “Taiwan independence” is impossible to achieve.


In fact, the mainland authorities and people have repeatedly issued a stern warning: “Taiwan independence” is a dead end, and “Taiwan independence” means war. The “Taiwan independence” separatist forces who are colluding with external forces and trying to “rely on the United States to seek independence” should be careful, as the example of today’s tragic situation in Ukraine is close at hand. I personally think that this is the very moment in which Taiwan should learn the many obvious lessons from the evolution of the Russia-Ukraine situation. The sensible course is to pull back from the precipice, stay far away from the blind alley of “Taiwan independence,” and turn to the right path of reunification.


In particular, the general public in Taiwan should recognize the historical trend, choose to stand on the “right side of history,” and work with the people of the mainland to “accomplish the glorious task of the complete reunification of the motherland and the great rejuvenation of the nation.” After all, in an era of cross-Strait confrontation between unification and independence, in an era of strategic competition between China and the United States, and in particular in the context of the “Taiwan independence” separatist forces engaging in secessionist activities, which have made the Taiwan Strait a place of storms and the dangers of war, and of international anti-China forces with their Cold War mentality trying to curb, contain, and suppress China’s rise, whether to pursue unification or attempt secession, and whether to promote national rejuvenation or hinder it—these are questions of great right and wrong, in which one’s own destiny and well-being are at stake.


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Cite This Page

唐永红 (Tang Yonghong). "What Can Taiwan Learn from the Evolution of the Russia-Ukraine Situation? [台湾从俄乌局势演变中能学到什么?]". CSIS Interpret: China, original work published in China Review [中国评论月刊], June 4, 2022

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