Mar 29, 2022 - World

Taiwan sees lessons in Ukraine

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Many Taiwanese see Ukraine's response to Russia's invasion as a lesson in how to repel a future Chinese military assault.

Why it matters: "If Ukraine can do it, then Taiwanese people should be able to do it as well," I-chung Lai, president of the Taiwan-based think tank Prospect Foundation, told Axios.

The big picture: Taiwan and Ukraine face similar threats, from China and Russia respectively, which have publicly-known intentions to subsume some or all of their territory.

  • The people of both Taiwan and Ukraine have fought hard to create their own democratic institutions, while their larger authoritarian neighbors have tried to undermine those institutions.
  • Both Taiwan and Ukraine have been kept out of multilateral bodies like the United Nations in Taiwan's case and NATO in Ukraine's case, due in part to pressure from the larger countries that want to control them.

What's happening: Many Taiwanese are saying Russia's invasion of Ukraine is a wake-up call. Taiwan buys high-end weapons systems from the U.S. but lacks the extensive training and equipment that has powered the Ukrainian resistance.

  • Taiwanese defense minister Chiu Kuo-cheng said last week that the government was considering extending compulsory military service from the current four months to up to one year.
  • "Among the general public, there also is a surge in interest about training their own defense skills," including emergency aid and medic training, Lai told Axios.

What they're saying: "Both Ukraine and Taiwan have long endured the perils of living next to a belligerent, authoritarian neighbor," Taiwan's representative to the U.S. Bi-khim Hsiao wrote in the Washington Post last week.

  • "The determination and resilience that the Ukrainian people have shown in the wake of Russia’s invasion have inspired Taiwan, reinforcing our commitment to defend our freedom," she wrote.

Yes, but: Taiwan's situation differs from Ukraine's in several key ways.

  • Ukraine is a universally recognized sovereign nation with membership in the United Nations, while China has poached most of Taiwan's diplomatic partners and forced it out of most international institutions in recent decades, leaving Taiwan's international status as a sovereign state in a gray area.
  • That means Taiwan might struggle to bring its case before international courts if China were to invade, and that Beijing would claim its attack was a purely domestic affair.
  • Whereas Ukraine and Russia share a long land border, 100 miles of water separate Taiwan from China, making a military invasion much more difficult — and other methods of assault more likely.

What to watch: Taiwan has much more work to do if it wants to repel an invasion as successfully as Ukraine has, said Larry Diamond, senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution.

  • "Taiwan needs to plan ahead to develop greater resilience to hold out in the face of efforts to coerce, strangle, or bombard it," Diamond said. "This includes developing more resilience in supply chains and greater domestic stocks of supplies and energy."
  • Another model Taiwan should emulate is Israel, Diamond added, which has used lengthy compulsory military service, technological advances, and U.S. assistance to bolster its regional security.

The bottom line: Perhaps the most important resource, however, is a population's belief in its own country.

  • Ukraine has shown the Taiwanese public "the people’s will is the crucial factor for the defense," Lai said.

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