Interestingly enough, apologists for the Chinese empire in Sinophone discourse have sometimes taken their cues from Western leftists who sought to redirect blame exclusively back to the West, often citing arguments drawn from western leftist apologists for Russia. These apologists and their Western leftist accomplices frame the West as the only actor to criticize and Russia’s actions as a legitimate response to NATO aggression. Whether they do so out of ignorance or out of a sense of guilt about Western imperialism, the result is to absolve non-Western imperialisms, in this case Russia, of its agency and culpability for the horrors it has wrought in Ukraine.
Geopolitical Realignments in Time of War
Russia’s war on Ukraine is sobering for both China and Taiwan. Beijing now must recognize that the West – the US and Europe – is willing to implement economic sanctions on a massive scale and deliver military aid, even from staunchly anti-war countries like Germany. Taipei has to come to grips with that fact that neither the West’s sanctions nor arms deterred Russia’s aggression. Both realize that the war will have an enormous impact on their antagonism, defense policy, and economic relations. For Taiwan, specifically, its defense strategy will be to increase military spending and preparations to resist invasion in the hope of making Beijing think that a cross-strait war would be too costly even to consider.
While China has maintained its alliance with Russia and reproduced its talking points domestically, it thus far has taken a cautious approach in international relations. It has perhaps realized that it cannot afford to fully side with Russia and risk isolation from international markets by getting dragged into an economic and diplomatic conflict with the West over the war. China has publicly pledged only a relatively small sum of 1.57 million USD in humanitarian aid to Ukraine. It has condemned the US for assisting Ukraine with weapons, contending that those would only result in an escalation of the war. But it has done little to oppose the US and NATO.
China has been actively reaching out to European countries to consolidate its alignments since it not only needs Europe as a market but also as a source of technology and innovation. It can ill afford for the war to disrupt these economic ties. Up until now, Europe and China’s relationship has been an opportunistic one that was focused on trade and economy. Beijing wants to preserve these.
However, the EU-China summit on April 1st, 2022, may have been the beginning of a change in their relationship. The European leaders refused to back down on multinational, coordinated statements against Chinese human rights abuses. Despite China’s efforts to narrow the focus of the meeting on trade and economic concerns, EU representatives persisted in raising objections to China’s policies in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong, and Taiwan.
While China and Europe at large are still economically interdependent, the situation is beginning to change amidst this conflict. Since COVID-19, Taiwan has built closer diplomatic ties with several Eastern European countries, especially Lithuania. China responded by imposing a trade boycott of Lithuania. Its determination to punish countries for establishing relations with Taiwan could begin to compromise its relationship with other states in the EU and the EU as a whole.
The complex multilateral relations between China, the EU, the US, and Russia cannot be explained in the binaristic geopolitical outlook of a “new Cold War” either economically or politically. The war on Ukraine has demonstrated that the world we live in is not only mediated by the superpower competition between the US and China, but there are many other actors involved. Ukraine, despite being largely ignored until the last decade by the West because of its lack of economic and political power, has shown how its unwavering resistance is capable of redrawing the geopolitical alignments and changing the dynamics of post-Cold War world history.
Unlike the predictions of the neoliberal economists or geopolitical realists, market liberalization and the ever more interconnected world economy have neither prevented another war from breaking out in Europe, nor transformed China’s authoritarian state. The multiple collisions between global superpowers from both the West and non-West in ongoing geopolitical contestations are evidence that the questions of imperialist aggression and coloniality are far from resolved by the end of the Cold War.
Further, the war in Ukraine has highlighted the critical position of the former Soviet states such as the Baltic countries, who are much more assertive in their stance on both Russia and China. Compared to the Western European states, especially Germany and Italy who are heavily reliant on importing Russia’s natural gas, these post-Soviet and postcolonial states seem to be more willing to take sides against imperialist aggression.
The War’s Impacts on Asia and Supply Chains
With its abrupt and violent invasion, Russia’s disregard for international laws and economic ties with Europe may also cause the West to reconsider its relations with China. Recognizing that economic engagement may not nudge China away from regional aggression, Western countries may adopt a more confrontational stance toward China, increasing the likelihood of the outbreak of an inter-regional conflict. Although some have argued that economic interdependence in global supply chains—effectively a version of the post-Soviet Fukuyamaian “end of history” argument—would prevent conflict between the US and China, that may not turn out to be the case.
Despite the postcolonial parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan, in regard to political economy, it is important to distinguish between the positions of the two countries in the world and their relationship with various major powers. The US has a stronger historical relationship with Taiwan than it has with Ukraine. Taiwan is also a significantly larger economy and is much more central to the world economy. It is vital to global semiconductor supply chains, producing half of the world’s made-to-order chips and 92% of the global market for advanced chips, by some estimates.