Taiwan also has a different relationship with its regional imperialist overlord, China, than Ukraine has with Russia. For example, Taiwanese semiconductors are reportedly essential parts of the missiles that China has pointed at the island. Consequently, China’s reliance on Taiwan for semiconductor manufacturing has been a greater economic deterrent to a Chinese invasion. Given the deep integration of the Chinese and Taiwanese economies, the economic impact of a Chinese invasion on China would be enormous.
Nevertheless, economic interdependence is no guarantee against war, as Ukraine demonstrates. Most of the world’s supply of neon, which is needed for semiconductor manufacturing, and 40 percent of krypton, is sourced from Ukraine. Ukraine is also a vital breadbasket for Europe and is one of the world’s major exporters of grains. Thus, Ukraine’s role as producer of grain and raw materials for high tech manufacturing, something that directly impacts Russia, was not a deterrent to a Russian invasion. We can expect such political conflicts and even wars, despite the integration of the world economy.
Following the invasion of Ukraine, global geopolitical alignments will be drawn into sharper relief than in recent history. It will strengthen ties between eastern European countries already worried about the geopolitical threat of Russia and NATO. It will trigger similar dynamics in Asia. The Taiwanese government has already aligned itself with the US and European states against Russia. Former prime minister Shinzo Abe of Japan has suggested that Tokyo adopt a stronger stance in defense of Taiwan to prevent it from suffering a fate similar to Ukraine.
Geopolitical tensions between the US and China will likely intensify after the invasion of Ukraine–potentially drawing Taiwan into the conflict. From the standpoint of Taiwan, the call for more cooperation between US and China is unlikely to be heeded as cross-strait relations have only become more conflictual. China is doubling down on its annexation discourse and attacking Taiwan’s attempt to establish more diplomatic relationships throughout the world.
Solidarity as Deterrence Strategy
From a progressive standpoint, Taiwan would benefit from having more balanced geopolitical relations in the Asia Pacific region and not relying so much on the US’s support. Nevertheless, Ukraine’s living example has shown that Taiwan cannot risk negotiating with the authoritarian regime which views it as a subordinate in its empire. In the meantime, a better strategy for Taiwan’s diplomacy is building more multilateral alliances–official and unofficial–with other partners such as the Central and Eastern European countries beyond the US to break away from its international isolation.
As a small country with limited international access, Taiwan cannot play in the same game as superpower nations. It cannot compete with China’s much larger military budget and security apparatuses. However, the broad-based grassroots mobilization from civil society as well as the government of Ukraine has shown that international solidarity can be deployed as a deterrence strategy. The primary objective of Taiwan is to deter war with China not through appeasement, as that approach would only turn into Beijing’s greater political and economic dominance, and its erasure of civil liberty in the country.
Instead, a better strategy is to increase awareness of the stakes of geopolitical relations domestically, and accumulate our allies internationally. In light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Ministry of National Defense in Taiwan, for the first time in decades, issued a civil defense booklet to the Taiwanese public due to the pressure from grassroots organizations. Despite its flaws and the incompleteness 0f the current version of the booklet, the most concerning part of war discourse in Taiwan is not how we talk about it, but the fact that no one talks about it due to the historical and affective link to the white terror of its past. As a young democracy that has fought to leave its authoritarian past, Ukraine’s lessons for Taiwan are not only about war preparedness or mobilization but also the critical task of realizing its own identity and anticolonial sovereignty.
Beyond its domestic focus on security, Taiwan has also served as a critical site that facilitates intra-regional grassroots movements against China’s imperialist aggression. Since the mid-2010s, Asia has seen a wave of people’s movements, which have sought to take a stance against regional authoritarianism. This ranges from Hong Kong to Myanmar and Thailand, with the “Milk Tea Alliance” having proven a popular framework for situating these movements alongside each other.
These struggles were primarily against each country’s domestic authoritarianism. Hong Kong is an exception to this pattern as it was directly contending with the deterioration of its political freedoms caused by the Chinese government, which rules over it. What will be essential but challenging is trying to bring these movements together across borders to prevent regional conflict, especially when they may not be able to deter actions from states that are not their own.
Nevertheless, this question of transnational solidarity seems pressing at a time in which regional conflict seems increasingly likely and could drag the region, and possibly the world, into more wars. Building such solidarity has been very difficult during the COVID-19 pandemic, which has largely restricted the organic, interpersonal exchanges among activists across borders. But the war on Ukraine has shown the importance of solidarity in the virtual space, a space that has been critical to counter Russian propaganda and apologist discourses.
We must do all we can to build such common organizing across borders. As antiwar activist Shiyam Galyon argues in light of the current conflict, “Not liking war is not the same as being antiwar. Where war involves a style of conflict engagement that is rooted in domination, subjugation, and armament, being antiwar involves a style of conflict engagement that is rooted in cooperation, collaboration, and disarmament.”
For activists in Asia, many of whom are in postcolonial societies, war is far from a distant memory. The close confrontations with authoritarian states have led us to find solidarity in our continuous pursuit of democracy, sovereignty, and decoloniality. Only by facilitating grassroots movements and transnational interdependence can we find alternative ways of belonging and engagement that reject the escalating inter-imperial rivalries.