Since Russian forces invaded Ukraine last month, the country has gone from being a powerful member of the international order to a pariah state. The world has coalesced around Ukraine and its struggle for freedom, with leaders on both sides of the political divide united in opposition to this illegal invasion. Even if Russia is winning the war on the ground, a tidal wave of sanctions and soft pressure has made Putin’s decision look increasingly like a major miscalculation.
Although the outbreak of war in Europe is a bleak prospect, every cloud has a silver lining. The stability of Putin’s regime is, in many ways, more precarious than ever.
On a purely practical level, the imposition of sanctions by dozens of countries is already crippling the Russian economy. The ruble continues to crash to record lows, while the country’s stock market is so volatile that trading is suspended indefinitely. Meanwhile, major corporations and financial service providers are pulling out of the country, leaving millions of people without any source or access to income whatsoever. Many Russians are currently unable to take more than a few dollars out of the bank.
Then there is the matter of soft pressure. Russians at home and around the world are feeling the weight of condemnation and fury towards their country. Whether it be the decision to expel the soccer team from the World Cup or the crackdown on foreign assets owned by its oligarchs, Russia is being frozen out of the international order with very few places to turn. Iconic western brands such as McDonald’s, Coca Cola and Starbucks have also announced the indefinite closure of their products and services as the war wages on.
As momentum gathers, the suffering inflicted on ordinary Russians will only intensify. Although one must never relish the suffering of innocent people, any opportunity to prevent an all-out war must always be the best way forward. Whether or not the democratic world succeeds in removing Putin from power, this powerful response must be replicated should China invade Taiwan.
China’s strength is largely predicated on the west’s demand for cheap manufacturing. And despite their own warmongering and human rights abuses, the communist state has largely avoided any significant economic sanctions. Although there is a compelling case as to why such sanctions should have been imposed already, an invasion of Taiwan would provide the ideal pretext to finally isolate China from the democratic world. In a country of over 1.4 billion that enjoys so many luxuries of the developed world, a similarly aggressive sanctions program would likely sow a level of internal discord not seen since the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre.
In an interview with El American, leading Sinologist Gordon C. Chang argued that in the event of China invading Taiwan, the west must respond “far faster and far more resolutely than they have to Russia.”
“Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has both emboldened and discouraged China’s regime regarding its plans to invade Taiwan—or some other country,” he explained.”The swift imposition of sanctions after the invasion shows the West can impose severe punishment. The Russian economy is particularly dependent on others. And so is the Chinese economy, which at this moment is exceedingly fragile.”
“China must be reconsidering its long-held view that small nations are in no position to resist big ones. The people of Ukraine are heroic, and the people of Taiwan are, I am sure, no less brave. Although China’s rulers do not care about human life—other than their own—they know a war on Taiwan would not be generally popular. Horrendous casualties—on both sides—could lead to the downfall of the Communist Party.”
One positive outcome of this current conflict is that having observed the impact of foreign invasion on Russia, China backs off from the prospect of invading Taiwan for the foreseeable future. Beijing may also be concerned at how despite having a far larger military, Russian forces have been unable to capture Ukrainian territory as effectively as they had anticipated.
In an article for Foreign Policy magazine, China expert Craig Singleton argues that despite Russia’s success in forging deep economic with various European countries, such efforts have not succeeded in forcing the west to stay neutral. He also points out that Beijing will be concerned by the willingness of millions of Ukrainians to risk their lives to defend their democracy. “Could the same tactical challenges befall China’s inexperienced military during an invasion of Taiwan?” Singleton notes. “The simple answer: Of course, they could, which is why China is acutely monitoring the situation.”
The only thing for certain is that the Taiwanese are taking strength from the resolution of the Ukrainian people. Last week, the country’s Foreign Minister Joseph Wu told a news conference how his countrymen had been inspired by the fighting of the Ukrainians, announcing millions in foreign aid for refugees fleeing the conflict.
“Despite great adversity, the government and people of Ukraine have been fighting with tremendous courage and determination,” said 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.”