Compare And Contrast: Taiwan’s situation is not like Ukraine

I’m sure you’ve seen a variety of reports and opinions about Taiwan’s situation with China compared to Ukraine’s with Russia, so here’s one more (before I give mine) from the Central News Agency using google translate:

Indian expert: The situation in Russia and Ukraine affects the Taiwan Strait and China will not take the opportunity to invade Taiwan

Two experts on China from India believe that although the Ukrainian crisis may indeed affect the situation in the Taiwan Strait, Beijing should still prefer to wait and see changes at this stage and will not rashly invade Taiwan.

[. . .]

Citing history, Vijay Kranti said China encouraged North Korea to start the Korean War in 1950, while Beijing seized Tibet while Washington was busy supporting ally South Korea. When asked whether Taiwan or Ukraine is more important from the perspective of U.S. strategic considerations?  Kranti said that, personally, it is likely Ukraine, because all US allies are involved in the Ukraine crisis, and the US anti-Russian mentality has not been eliminated.

[. . .]

On the other hand, Gaurie Dwivedi, a visiting scholar at the United Service Institution of India, a think tank, told the Central News Agency that while China may see the Ukraine crisis as a similar template for encroaching on Taiwan, it does not escalate provocation to Taiwan. Dwivedi, author of Blinkers Off, How Will The World Counter China, believes that the current situation is turbulent and unpredictable, and if China takes relevant actions, it will trigger a strong response from the United States, so “China should wait and see what happens at this stage.”

I doubt things are going to change for at least the next two years.  Some things about Ukraine and Taiwan are undoubtedly similar, but there are a lot of major differences that make an armed invasion unlikely here.

Then again, I could be dead wrong (figuratively and literally).  More below the fold.

First and foremost, there’s the Taiwan Strait.

Being adjacent by land, Russia was able to move troops and tanks within kilometres of the Ukraine border before attacking overland.  If Xi Limping (from crisis to crisis) wanted to invade Taiwan, the PLA would have to cross open water, which is over 120km at its closest point.

Bombers and fighter jets might be able to cross in minutes, but those can be countered by missiles.  It takes feet on the ground to occupy a country, and 100,000 soldiers crossing the strait on boats would be vulnerable.  On top of that, any major mobilization of troops and boats along the coast would be noticed weeks in advance.  Like Ukraine, Taiwan would take action to prepare, not sit still and do nothing.

Second, the PLA may be a paper tiger. 

Corruption is as rampant in the PLA as it is in the CCP.  The system seems designed to encourage graft and “gift taking” from military suppliers.  Even if the quality of weaponry is good, how does an old boys’ network of generals and other brass help?  Hu Wenming is not the only high profile person involved in bribery and corruption.

The Invisible Threat to China’s Navy: Corruption

The arrest of CSIC’s chairman speaks to endemic corruption among China’s military shipbuilders. That spells trouble for the PLAN.

May 19, 2020

In the past two decades, China has invested heavily in its naval modernization program with the objective of building a blue-water navy. Crucial to that goal was the China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation (CSIC), China’s leading military shipbuilding state-owned enterprise from 1999 to 2019. Yet the recent arrest of former CSIC Chairman Hu Wenming highlights the fact that serious corruption exists among China’s military shipbuilders, in spite of sustained graft fighting efforts.

[. . .]

Arrest of Hu Wenming

Hu Wenming, 63,  enjoyed a long career in China’s defense industrial complex, spanning numerous enterprises supplying equipment to the PLA Army, Navy, and Air Force. Hu oversaw sensitive projects such as the J-10 fighter jet, the Comac C919 airliner, the Xian MA60 airliner, and, most importantly, he commanded the development of aircraft carriers Liaoning and Shandong.

[. . .]

In August 2019, he suddenly retired from his post as CSIC chairman and disappeared from public view until May 12, 2020, when China’s anti-corruption watchdog, the Central Commission for Discipline Inspection (CCDI), announced his arrest for “serious violation of discipline and law.” Hu thus became the most high-profile corruption suspect from China’s defense sector in recent years. However, China’s military shipbuilding sector, particularly CSIC, had already had a number of run-ins with graft busters over the years.

China’s PLA also has a serious personnel problem: Sons of the “one child policy”.  Even with conscription, many men in China are hesitant about joining or having a career in the military, especially with the economic pressure to start a career and buy a house.  The CCP may be willing to have tens of thousands of men die (both for victory and to reduce the population imbalance), but individual people won’t.

Would their soldiers today be as gun-shy as they were at Tiananmen Square in 1989?  Would China be as sensitive about losing a few thousand the same way the US is?  Several writers have covered this topic.  Some call their soldiers “mama’s boys” because of the tendency to spoil only children in China.  Thousands of couples losing their only child would be hard to silence.

China’s One Child Policy: Military Implications

29 Dec , 2017

As part of the sweeping military reforms that were initiated in 2015, China is considerably reducing the number of personnel in the PLA to become a leaner, more efficient force. The total PLA personnel was about 2.3 million before a cut of 300,000 troops announced in 2015 was completed by 2017.  The PLA Army cut about 850,000 combat troops in 2013.

Two major trends can be observed from the population graph above. First, the dependency ratio in the country is artifically high. The aging population and the shrinking labour force is a burden in 4:2:1 families ie families where the parents are also single children. Secondly, the sex ratio is highly skewed, especially among the younger generations.  The preference for a male heir, especially in the rural areas where the concept of maintaining the family bloodline through males is strong, has resulted in sex selection or abandonment of girl children. Among the 0-14 years age group, the ratio is 117 males for every 100 females while the ratio stands at 114 to 100 among the 15-24 years age group. The global average at birth is 107 males for every 100 females.  This has resulted in a population bulge, with a large number of young, unmarried men who are likely to stay unmarried.

Third, the Beijing government may have other things to deal with internally.

As mentioned before, China has suffered serious flooding in the past two years, along with party corruptionFood shortages are likely in 2022, not just because of hoarding and COVID-19.  And for a country awash with flood water, there is a scarcity of potable water in many regions; much of the groundwater is tainted by industry and environmental protections are a joke.  Couple that with disruptions to supply chains, rampant unemployment greater than the government admits, the bursting and fraudulent real estate industry, the collapse of any one problem could trigger all the others.

 – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

A final thought: Taiwan has seen record rainfall during January in February 2022.  Keelung, the “rainy city”, had only one day of sunshine since the New Year, a record.

Most are complaining about the near constant deluge, but those paying attention recognize that the reservoirs islandwide are full.  There won’t be a drought this year, unlike the last, giving the government more time to complete construction of desalination plants.


  1. John Morales says

    You seem to be on top of things; good analysis.

    Nonetheless, I hope you have a bug-out plan, just in case.

  2. says

    This is my understanding as well. If China is thinking about invading, I hope the war in Ukraine will make them reconsider. Even better if they find a face-saving way to leave Taiwan alone. I know that’s asking too much though.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Comparing Ukraine with Taiwan, Taiwan has not had a civil war going on for 8 years with ~1300 dead on the Donbass Republics side, many who would have been Russian citizens

    • John Morales says

      But then, PRC consider Taiwan to be a rogue province of China, not a state.

      Which is basically the same rhetoric Putin is using about Ukraine (replacing China with Russia).

      • jrkrideau says

        Not really. Putin seems to see Ukraine as culturally and historically part of greater Russia and probably would not mind it joining Russia but he does not seem to think it necessary that it is a Russian republic or oblast. It occurs to me that he may think of it as the equivalent of a Commonwealth member.

        • John Morales says

          Not really.


          “The central contention of Putin’s speech on Monday is that Ukraine and Russia are, in historical terms, essentially inseparable.

          “Ukraine is not just a neighboring country for us. It is an inalienable part of our own history, culture and spiritual space,” he said, per the Kremlin’s official translation. “Since time immemorial, the people living in the south-west of what has historically been Russian land have called themselves Russians.”

          What we now call Ukraine, he says, “was entirely created by Russia or, to be more precise, by Bolshevik Communist Russia.” In this questionable narrative, a trio of early Soviet leaders — Lenin, Stalin, and Khrushchev — carved land away from Russia and several nearby nations to create a distinct and ahistorical republic called Ukraine. The creation of Ukraine and the other Soviet republics was an attempt to win the support of “the most zealous nationalists” across the Soviet Union — at the expense of the historical idea of Russia.


          (That’s not from the source. I’m not gonna link to a .ru domain)