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Could Russia's attack on Ukraine lead to China invading Taiwan?

Taiwan has increased surveillance and early warning of military developments in response to the invasion of Ukraine, while China refuses to rebuke Moscow.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping look on during a signing ceremony in Moscow, Russia, June 5, 2019.

China has yet to formally condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, after Vladimir Putin ordered troops into the Donbas region of the country in a dawn attack on Thursday. This, analysts say, could be a warning sign over China’s intentions towards Taiwan, which has been a thorn in Beijing’s side for decades. China views Taiwan as part of its “one China” policy and has long claimed the country, while refusing to hold diplomatic ties with nations that recognize Taiwan’s autonomy.

Chin and Russia enjoy a close diplomatic relationship. At the beginning of February, Vladimir Putin was a guest of Xi Jinping at the Olympic opening ceremony and both nations have stated the “Cold War mentality” should be abandoned, while China has said it recognizes Russia’s “legitimate security concerns” and backed its ally’s calls for a halt to the further expansion of NATO.

China calls for diplomatic solution but avoids mention of invasion

China’s Foreign Minister, Wang Yi, reiterated that stance in a telephone conversation with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, on Thursday in the wake of the invasion of Ukraine, although he did underline that China would “always respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.” However, China has fallen short of condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while calling for a diplomatic solution to be pursued. Xi and Putin have been strengthening ties in recent months and what part China could potentially play in the search for a peaceful end to the conflict is no doubt very much on the minds of NATO, the US and their international partners.

In Beijing, spokesperson for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and its deputy minister, Hua Chunying, on Thursday called on all parties to “remain calm” in an attempt to stop the situation from “getting out of control,” while avoiding the use of the word “invasion” to describe Moscow’s attack on Ukraine.

China’s ambassador to the United Nations, Zhang Jun, said during the last meeting of the Security Council that China did not believe “the door to a peaceful solution has yet been closed.”

Taiwan increases alert level

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen has called for increased vigilance of Chinese military movements in the wake of Russia’s invasion, ordering all security and military units to “raise their surveillance and early warning of military developments around the Taiwan Strait.”

Separately, Hua responded to international concerns over worldwide repercussions if Western nations failed to support Ukrainian independence by stating: “Taiwan is not Ukraine. Taiwan has always been an inalienable part of China. This is an indisputable legal and historical fact.”

China has been increasing its military activity in regions near Taiwan over the past couple of years amid rising tensions between the two countries. The Chinese air force has been running fighter sorties into Taiwanese air space for some time and Taiwan's air force was forced to scramble again on Thursday to warn away nine Chinese aircraft that entered its air defence zone, Taiwan's defence ministry said.

China has not ruled out using force to take Taiwan and has repeatedly warned the US not to interfere in its affairs – echoing Putin’s assertion that intervention against Moscow’s designs in Ukraine would lead to “consequences you have never seen.”

Biden backs Taiwan against China attack

However, unlike Ukraine, which is not an official member of NATO, Taiwan has the backing of Washington if attacked. Joe Biden said the US had a commitment to defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack last October, but the White House later clarified his comments.

“The US defence relationship with Taiwan is guided by the Taiwan Relations Act,” a White House spokesperson said. “We will uphold our commitment under the Act, we will continue to support Taiwan’s self-defence, and we will continue to oppose any unilateral changes to the status quo.”

Under the terms of the Taiwan Relations Act, Washington is committed to provide resources to the island in the case of hostilities, but the pact falls short of a US military intervention or the supply of advisors or intelligence, as the US is currently providing to NATO member states bordering Ukraine and Russia.