As Russia slogs in the mud of Ukraine, Taiwan looks closely at Ukraine for inspiration, with China observing very closely how the world is reacting to Russia’s invasion. Similar to Ukraine, Taiwan is under threat by a much larger power that claims ownership of its territory. While China is unashamed in backing Russia and Putin, The island nation of Taiwan says it is in solidarity with Ukraine since the invasion started.

“Despite great adversity, the government and people of Ukraine have been fighting with tremendous courage and determination,” said Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu. “Let me say this from the bottom of my heart: You have been an inspiration to the Taiwanese people in facing threats and coercion from authoritarian power.”

Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu at Office of President, 2020 (Wikimedia Commons). Source: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Taiwanese_Minister_of_Foreign_Affairs_Joseph_Wu_at_Office_of_President,_Taipei_20200401.jpg
Taiwanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Joseph Wu at Office of President, 2020 (總統府CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Taiwan is being claimed by China as part of its own sovereign territory and has been more adamant in asserting this claim in recent months. The rift began when the Republic of China (Taiwan) fled the Chinese mainland in 1949 after fighting a civil war with the Chinese Communist Party, now China’s ruling faction. Since then, Taiwan has established its own democratic society on its island.

Wu shared in his statement that a lot of Taiwanese people sympathize with the people of Ukraine. “Many Taiwanese people will say as I do now: I’m Ukrainian,” Wu said. “Taiwan Stands with Ukraine.”

He also announced that Taiwan had raised over T$300 million or US$10.6 million in donations to Ukraine refugees in Poland. Along with this, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen also expressed her country’s support through a tweet.

“Our country & people #StandWithUkraine against Russian aggression,” she wrote with pictures of the iconic Taipei 101 skyscraper and other cities donning the yellow and blue colors of the Ukrainian flag.

As the world watches what has transpired in Ukraine, many people, particularly the Taiwanese, fear that Taiwan is next on the metaphorical chopping block of countries being invaded.

In a poll published by the Taiwanese Public Opinion Foundation right before the Russian invasion, about 62% believe that China will not attack the island in the immediate future. Around 26.6%, however, believe that a Chinese invasion is right around the corner, with Chinese fighter jets reportedly patrolling Taiwan’s air defense identification zone (ADIZ), with the largest dispatched squadron at 39 warplanes in the first week of February.

Taiwanese President Tsai lng-wen visiting a Taiwanese air force base in Pingtung, 2021 (President Tsai lng-wen Twitter Account). Source: https://twitter.com/iingwen/status/1437963201337966594
Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen visiting a Taiwanese air force base in Pingtung, 2021 (President Tsai lng-wen (@iingwen) Twitter Account)

With parallels being drawn between Taiwan and Ukraine, Beijing rejected the comparison saying that Taiwan had never left China, insisting that their situation was different. Taiwan, on the other hand, stated that their situation differs as Ukraine has a land border with Russia. In Taiwan’s case, they are separated from China thanks to the natural barrier that is the Taiwan Strait. They also noted that it had established itself in the world, with it being a key part of the global semiconductor supply chain.

“If the world loses Taiwan, the whole situation in the South China Sea will change too. If our semiconductors can’t be shipped, the world will be impacted too,” said Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council Minister Chiu Tai-shan.

What has Taiwan learned from Ukraine?

As Ukraine continues to resist the Russian advance, Taiwan has been taking notes on how an outmanned and outgunned force can resist an overpowering enemy. The country’s military strategists have been incorporating tactics used in the Ukrainian defense to their own battle plans in the event China finally decides to take them by force.

While there have been no reports of suspicious military activity from China, Taipei has been on high alert. President Tsai Ing-wen has praised the use of “asymmetric warfare” to maximize the mobility of their armed forces.

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According to Ma Cheng-Kun, director of the Graduate Institute of China Military Affairs Studies at the National Defense University of Taiwan, Ukraine has displayed the capabilities of the said tactic to hold back the Russian army.

“Ukraine’s military has been making full use of asymmetric warfare, very effectively, and so far successfully holding off Russia’s advance,” said Ma.

“That’s exactly what our armed forces have been proactively developing,” he added, highlighting to native-made weapons such as the lightweight Kestrel anti-armor rocket, which was designed for close combat. Ma also noted how Ukraine’s showcase gave confidence to smaller militaries in their ability to stand up against much larger forces. “From Ukraine’s performance, we can be even more confident in our own,” he said.

How is Taiwan preparing for China?

Amidst the growing threat of a Chinese invasion, Taiwan has announced its plans to double its annual missile production capabilities this year.

Last year, the Taiwanese government approved an additional $8.6 billion (T$240 billion) to the military budget for the next five years after they had repeatedly identified Chinese military planes flying through the island’s air defense zones.

In a printed report sent to Reuters on March 2, the Taiwanese Defense Ministry proclaimed that the extra spending included plans to increase the yearly missile production capability to 497 from 207.

Among these are the locally made Wan Chien air-to-ground missiles along with upgraded versions of the Hsiung Feng IIE missiles, which extended range can hit targets further inland in Mainland China. The ministry also plans to start manufacturing 48 attack drones annually. There are also plans to build 34 new manufacturing facilities by June under the military-owned National Chung Shan Institute of Science and Technology.

President Tsai has also been resolute in the military modernization of the country, pushing for several defense projects, which include a new class of stealthy submarines along with developing their own class of submarines.

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