In Taiwan, where residents have for years been numb to Beijing’s threats and intimidation – including daily incursions into their air defense identification zone, military exercises simulating attacks on the island and cyberattacks – there is a growing realization that the status quo may no longer hold.
“I believe that today’s Ukraine is tomorrow’s Taiwan,” said Lung Wei-chen, a 69-year-old retired soldier from the southern city of Kaohsiung. “Other countries including the United States are not reliable, and we only have ourselves to defend Taiwan.”
To Lung, the similarities between the two global flash points are unsettling. Like Russian President Vladimir Putin, China’s ruling Communist Party has for decades said the self-governed democracy is an “inalienable” part of its history and sovereign territory. Chinese President Xi Jinping, the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, has repeatedly reserved the right to use force to “reunite” Taiwan with mainland China.
But government officials and researchers focused on cross-strait tensions say the similarities stop there. They stress differences such as the 100-mile sea barrier between Taiwan and China, Taiwan’s key role in global supply chains and the fact that it is surrounded by US allies such as South Korea and Japan.
Since the Chinese Communist Party’s 1949 victory over the Nationalists, sending them fleeing to Taiwan, residents have lived through periods of shelling, warming ties and bellicose rhetoric – always under the assumption that Beijing would not risk entangling itself in all-out-war to take over the island.