Russia, Ukraine – Xi’s Not That Into You

Assuming Russia launches a significant and sustained invasion of Ukraine in the next 3 months, how does this change the way we should think about China’s strategic plan? Will this increase/accelerate Chinese action against Taiwan? What would the impact be on US-China relations? What other hotspots would see a significant increase in potential risk?

Michael M.
New Jersey, USA

There is little reason to think a Russian invasion of Ukraine would affect China’s strategic plans. The geographic, strategic, and historical contexts in southeast Europe and in the Taiwan Strait are more different than alike. Internal drivers are far more important than external drivers in Chinese decision-making regarding Taiwan. That being said, should the United States intervene directly in a Russia-Ukraine war, that could draw American forces away from the Pacific; China, in turn, might assess that it has an opportunity to annex Taiwan. Even under such circumstances, however, China would face the prospect of a highly damaging war. Heightened pressure on Taiwan is more likely. US-China relations could be affected negatively if China attempts to take advantage of European instability.

Anthony R.
Osaka, Japan

Some may see the Russia/Ukraine situation as a precursor to conflict in the Indo-pacific. There will be no significant changes to China’s interactions with Taiwan due to the focus on the Olympics and tamping down the recurring Covid fires. China will continue to focus on Hong Kong at this time and after the CCP feels they have quashed enough malcontents in Hong Kong, they may make more focused efforts. Asian countries, in general, are more aligned in their anger against China, as the maritime issues have a more direct effect on all of them. In Europe, most countries are still individualistic and assume that the US will recurringly come to their aid. US-China relations will remain tense for the foreseeable future, with the usual hotspots appearing in Francophone Africa and the Persian Gulf.

Richard W.
Washington, DC, USA

China’s response to a Russian invasion of Ukraine would depend, perhaps decisively, on how successful Beijing perceives the attack. If Russia achieves an easy victory, with minimal costs, this would strengthen the belief among many Chinese that the United States is a paper tiger and that China can therefore more safely and profitably challenge the US positions in Taiwan, the South and East China Seas, and elsewhere. If the Russian invasion fails or makes only minimal gains while incurring substantial sanctions and other costs, then PRC policy makers would be more reluctant to emulate the Russian approach. I would think that the same considerations would influence the willingness of the Iranian and North Korean leadership regarding whether to attack their US-backed neighbors.

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