Will Taiwan be the next Ukraine? – PRIO Blogs


“Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow.” This warning is ringing through the Taiwanese social networks.

“We shouldn’t let this problem be passed on from generation to generation,” says Xi Jinping in 2019 on the political differences between the two sides of the Taiwan Strait. The annual report of the Chinese government, released on March 5, 2022, said that China is committed to “resolving the Taiwan question in the new era. The “new era” is normally understood as the era of President Xi.

Photo: Mario Tama/AFP/NTB

Yet, thankfully, we haven’t seen any obvious signs that China is preparing to invade.

A Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be more likely to trigger World War III than the Russian invasion of Ukraine, as a US and Japanese military response would be likely.

China is America’s main rival for global power. If the United States allowed Beijing to take control of Taiwan, the United States would consider its bases in Okinawa and Guam threatened, and Japan would be likely to develop its own nuclear weapons. To avoid this scenario, the United States will likely intervene militarily if Taiwan is attacked. Although the United States is not legally bound by the 1979 convention Taiwan Relations Act to defend Taiwan militarily, but only to maintain the ability to do so, Biden said he would.

Unique national identities

The Taiwanese fear the fate of the Ukrainians. This is because they are in a similar situation. In both places, people have moved away from their Russian and Chinese identities, respectively.

Combining a Ukrainian and Russian national identity is now difficult. In Taiwan, the number of people who consider themselves Chinese has decreases and those who claim to combine a Taiwanese and Chinese identity have dropped from 50% to 30%.

In Ukraine, the change of identity came in reaction to the Russian annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the ensuing war in the Donbass region.

In Taiwan, this change of identity received a boost when China criticized a draconian national security law in Hong Kong in 2020. It showed Taiwanese what they could expect from national unification in “ one China”.

The transformation of national identities partly explains the tenacity with which Ukrainians resisted the Russian onslaught in February-March 2022. Another reason is that Ukraine has been building up its military capabilities since 2014. This is also the case with Taiwan.

Change of political direction

The transformation of national identity translates into political change. Popular mobilization led to regime change in Kyiv in 2014. Ukraine’s loss of Crimea and armed conflict in Donbass prevented pro-Russian politicians from winning a Ukrainian election.

In 2016, the presidential candidate of Taiwan’s “One China Party” (the Kuomintang, or KMT) lost to Democratic Progress Party (DPP) leader Tsai Ing-wen. She did not take steps to establish de jure independence by changing the official name of the state to ‘Republic of China’, but she rejected the so-called 1992 consensus, which says it does not there is only one China, but there is to disagreelies about what “China” means. This led to tensions in the Taiwan Strait. Tsai Ing-wen was re-elected in 2020. A investigation of Taiwan’s population published on March 4, 2022 revealed that 76% of respondents are satisfied with the status quo, while less than 15% want to change the constitution of the Republic of China.

The similarities between Ukraine and Taiwan should not prevent us from seeing some fundamental differences. First, there is the legal factor. Ukraine is an internationally recognized sovereign state and a full member of the UN. The Russian invasion was therefore a war of aggression, violating the Charter of the United Nations.

The Republic of China on Taiwan lost its UN membership to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in 1971 and is considered internationally to be part of “One China”, but not the PRC. This strengthens the arguments for reunification. The National People’s Congress of China has passed a anti-secession law in 2005, which obliges China to intervene in force if Taiwan were to declare itself independent.

Protection of the sea and the mountains

The following difference makes an invasion of Taiwan extremely difficult: geography.

An invasion of Ukraine should normally be relatively straightforward in terms of terrain, as the terrain is flat. Tanks and other vehicles can simply cross the border.

In contrast, Taiwan is a mountainous island with few beaches and is separated from mainland China by the wide Taiwan Strait. An amphibious assault would almost certainly fail if met with determined resistance. An invasion of Taiwan should therefore be preceded by a naval blockade or a massive missile attack to destroy Taiwan’s infrastructure. This would give the United States and Japan time to react. The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is also fully aware that, unlike the Russian army, it lacks combat experience. China has not gone to war since 1979, when it invaded Vietnam.


A total Chinese invasion of Taiwan is therefore unlikely. If China wanted to use the crisis in Europe to make military moves in its own region, then it would probably try to do something less likely to be actively resisted, like building more military structures on reefs in the China Sea. southern or maybe seize islands. occupied by Taiwan or one of the Southeast Asian states. In this way, Beijing would also test the American reaction, which would be less likely to take the form of direct military intervention.


  • Stein Tønnesson, Research Professor, PRIO
  • Ilaria Carrozza, Principal Researcher, PRIO

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