Crisis in Ukraine reinforces vigilance against China’s ambitions

In view of the crisis in Ukraine, Taiwan has begun to intensify its efforts to strengthen its defense capabilities. This may serve as a message to China, which continues to threaten Taiwan with its military power with a possible option for forcible unification of Taiwan.

In March, the administration of Taiwan President Tsai Ing-wen indicated a policy of reviewing the system to mobilize the people for the military. Currently, men aged 18 to 36 are required to undergo a four-month period of military training, but the Taiwan government intends to consider extending the training period and reinstating conscription, among other measures.

Taiwan had long implemented conscription, but it was abolished at the end of 2018 when the previous administration of President Ma Ying-jeou, which had taken a conciliatory policy toward China, decided to shift to a system of volunteer military service.

In a public opinion survey, 76% of respondents said they favored extending the training period. There was a surge in the number of respondents who answered they “do not believe” the possibility of the United States joining a war in the event of a contingency in the Taiwan Strait, with the figure exceeding 50%.

Regarding Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the United States has refrained from direct military intervention. The cautious U.S. move is believed to be aimed at preventing the crisis from spreading across Europe. However, the move may become a factor that makes Taiwan feel anxiety over its defense system, which has relied solely on the United States.

China identifies unification with Taiwan as a historic mission. While the goal is based on the premise of peaceful unification under the principle of “one country, two systems,” Chinese President Xi Jinping has not ruled out armed unification. In Hong Kong, Beijing swept away democratic elements by force, leaving the one country, two systems ideal as an empty husk.

The Chinese military has repeatedly conducted military exercises with an eye to invading Taiwan. It is essential to improve Taiwan’s deterrence so that China will not move toward armed unification. Although the Tsai administration has been increasing Taiwan’s defense budget and building up its missile capabilities and adding naval vessels, the military power gap between Taiwan and China is enormous.

However, despite Ukraine being far behind Russia in terms of military power, it has been defending the capital city of Kyiv and is currently forcing Moscow to change its strategy. There may be many things that Taiwan can use as references.

Ukraine has been actively rebuilding its military strength, reflecting on how it allowed Russia to annex the Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and to subsequently put eastern parts of Ukraine under Moscow’s control. Improving its system to mobilize the people for the military and modernizing its weapons have contributed to containing attacks by Russian forces.

The United States, Europe and Japan have expressed their greatest support for Ukraine, largely because Ukrainian leaders and citizens have shown a willingness to fight.

For a long time, Taiwan has found it difficult to strengthen its defense capabilities and enhance a defense mindset among its citizens. It can be said that the Ukraine crisis has become an opportunity to overcome such issues.

The United States has shown its stance of strengthening its involvement in Taiwan, such as by providing support for Taiwan’s air defense system. Japan, in cooperation with the United States, must continue to tell China that an invasion of Taiwan would not be beneficial to Beijing.

(From The Yomiuri Shimbun, April 13, 2022)