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Taiwan keeps a watchful eye on China amid Ukraine crisis

Chess pieces are seen in front of displayed China and Taiwan's flags in this illustration taken January 25, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic/Illustration

Taiwan is concerned that Beijing would take advantage of a distracted West to increase pressure on the island in the wake of the Ukraine crisis, although officials in Taipei say Chinese soldiers have made no unusual manoeuvres in recent days.

The news: The government, which is always on the lookout for Chinese provocations, established a Ukraine working group within the National Security Council last month. China considers Taiwan to be its own territory, and in recent years has increased military action near the self-governing island.

  • President Tsai Ing-wen said at a working group meeting on Wednesday that Taiwan needs to boost its monitoring and alertness on military activity in the region, as well as combat foreign propaganda, though she did not specifically reference China.
  • Despite the fact that Taiwan’s administration claims the island’s situation is “fundamentally different” from that of Ukraine, Tsai has voiced “empathy” for Ukraine’s situation due to the military danger the island confronts from China.
  • In two foreign media interviews this month, Taiwan Foreign Minister Joseph Wu cautioned that they were keeping a careful eye on China to see if it would use the Ukraine issue to launch an invasion. “China may think about using military action against Taiwan at any moment, and we need to be prepared for that,” he told Britain’s ITV News.

What’s going on: According to a senior Taiwan official acquainted with the government’s security strategy, the prospects of a sudden increase in military tension are “not high,” but Taipei has been keeping a careful eye on any unusual Chinese operations.

  • The person mentioned joint military training by the People’s Liberation Army in locations between Taiwan’s northeast and the Miyako Strait near Japan’s southern islands, which have been more common in the last month or two.
  • The exercises, which included fighter jets, bombers, and cruisers, were intended to put more pressure on Japan, according to the official, who did not want to be identified owing to the sensitivity of the situation.
  • A spokeswoman for the Japanese Defense Agency declined to comment.
  • On Wednesday, Ma Xiaoguang, a spokesperson for China’s Taiwan Affairs Office, said that Taiwan’s government was using Ukraine to “maliciously hype up” military threats and stir up anti-China sentiment in collaboration with the West.
  • On Saturday, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that if Western nations fail to follow through on their promises to back Ukraine’s independence, it will have global ramifications, including for Taiwan.
  • President Xi Jinping’s main emphasis right now, according to two Taiwanese diplomatic sources, is preparing for the Communist Party’s once-every-half-decade convention this year, where he will seal a historic third term in office.
  • Since the defeated Republic of China government retreated to the island in 1949 after losing a civil war to the Communists, Taiwan, which rejects Beijing’s sovereignty claims, has been under threat of Chinese invasion.

In addition: Taiwan, like Ukraine, is caught between two great powers, according to Su Chi, a former head of Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council during President Ma Ying-jeou’s previous administration.

  • Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin approach their territorial claims in fundamentally different ways, according to Su, the director of the Taipei Forum think organisation.
  • “So far Xi has been firm but gradual, not lightening fast like Putin.”
  • Beijing was most certainly looking at how the Ukraine issue progressed in terms of sanctions on Russia, according to a Western security official involved with policy planning toward China. “It’s probably seen as a laboratory by China, on what they might face in a Taiwan contingency,” the official said, referring to how Western countries may react to a Chinese attack on the island.
  • According to the Taiwanese source, there are some parallels between Putin’s and Xi’s military operations in recent years, citing Russia’s “grey zone” tactics in Crimea prior to its annexation in 2014. China’s regular flying missions near the island have been dubbed a “grey zone” manoeuvre by Taipei. “Rather than conjecturing whether Xi would restrain actions before the party congress, it is more realistic to analyse its daily military activities and make preparations accordingly,” the official added.
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