by Peter Zeihan on May 27, 2022
At the outset of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, there was significant concern that China would follow with its own invasion of Taiwan. With both Moscow and Beijing moving to secure what they consider breakaway states within days of each other, the United States–months away from its own messy pull out of Afghanistan–would be too caught in a lurch to react to either.
That obviously didn’t happen.
It’s not that China is not always considering how it can bring Taiwan back into the mainland’s fold. It’s just a question of what the scope of an invasion would look like, and what sort of consequences the Chinese will be brought to bear. The arithmetic and planning for both have changed sharply in recent months.
If anything, Russia’s bungled invasion of Ukraine showed the Chinese that there’s no quick or easy way to overwhelm a fortified and prepared neighboring state. Consider the fact that the Ukrainians have only really existed as a unified, functional post-Soviet country since the Russian’s first invasion of the Donbas in 2014. Taiwan has been preparing for a potential Chinese invasion for over six decades.
There’s also the obvious fact that Taiwan is an island. The Russians attempted to slow-roll a land based invasion from Russia and Belarus into Ukraine. China is going to have to move armor, soldiers, supply chains, etc across the Taiwan Strait or by air. En masse. This is something incredibly difficult and costly to do even for the best equipped air forces and navies. China’s remain largely untested.
And then there is the threat of international reaction. China’s proximity to the world’s most concentrated production hub of high-end semiconductors seems like effective leverage. And to some extent, it is. But China’s workers lack the skillset to design and build the high-end chips Taiwan is known for. And most of the R&D happens in the United States. While Taiwan’s plants would most likely shutter, one should keep in mind that much of China’s most valuable exports–high end electronics, smart phones, etc.–are reliant on these very same chips.
Which brings us to global consequences. The world is not going to take lightly to the Chinese upending the chip supply chain. Nor can China expect to avoid crippling economic consequences. Consider that outside of energy and extracted resources, Russia has not spent most of its post-Cold War life integrating too heavily into the global economy. China is the complete opposite. Whatever difficulties Moscow is facing with Western economic sanctions, China’s pain would undoubtedly be orders of magnitude worse.