As Russia invades Ukraine, they face wide-scale international denunciation. The United States and Europe are among those who have enacted sanctions against Russia in response to the invasion, but China has neglected to take the same actions. Although they attempt to feign neutrality, there is evidence of China leaning toward Russia’s side and persuading their people of Russia’s innocence. While they may not support the brutality of the conflict, they would prefer the West to be seen as the ones responsible for the transgression of events rather than their neighbour. China gains from observing Russia’s exploits in Ukraine, themselves looking curiously at Taiwan.
One of the most impactful consequences of the invasion at Russia’s expense has been the sanctions against Russian energy. Without European consumers, Russia’s most lucrative industry loses its potential to support the Russian economy. China is the solution to this economic crisis for Russia. They have already signed a thirty-year contract with Russia to receive gas from Siberia. New pipelines directed toward China will channel the energy deposits previously slated for European consumption into the bustling Beijing.
China will make an enemy of Russia no sooner than they will align themselves with the West. Their support (or at the very least lack of public denunciation) of Russia’s engagements with Georgia, Crimea, and now Ukraine, allow them to keep Russia as an ally. The conflict has also provided an opportunity for China to further vilify the West. They attempt to portray NATO as the instigator of the conflict, pointing out that their advance toward the Russian border put Russia in a corner. Russia’s decision was from a defensive position. Russian sentiment is more favourable than Western sentiment. Further, their heavy censorship has made it more difficult for their citizens to view the full scale of the conflict and decide for themselves whether Russia or NATO is to blame.
One reason for China’s decision to spin blame toward NATO is due to their conflicts with member countries, particularly in the South China Sea. The United States continues to support other Southeast Asian nations that oppose China in maritime disputes. Indonesia, for example, has increasingly become wary of China’s conflicting claims to the waters they use and the threats made against them. With the expansion of the Garuda Shield exercises, Indo-Pacific nations are looking to Western allies to back their claims against China.
Aside from gaining a powerful ally, China is particularly curious about how the world is reacting to Russia’s actions. They have had long-standing opinions about their right to Taiwan and its rebellious nature. With China continuing to uphold their right to reclaim the island, and with Russia’s own attempt to reclaim remnants of its former self, the world wonders if China will be emboldened to do the same. Taiwan’s separation from China allows Taiwan’s Western allies to sit at China’s doorstep and monitor their movements.
Chinese aircrafts violated Taiwan’s Air Defence Identification Zone shortly after the Russian invasion, which they continue to do regularly. They have not dared to attack the island directly for fear of the response of Taiwan’s allies. The country could not face the economic sanctions that may follow unscathed. If they were to invade Taiwan, they cannot be certain of the degree to which its allies would respond and whether a larger-scale conflict would be feasible. As they observe the Ukraine conflict, they continue to probe Taiwan and express their support of Russia’s initiative in enforcing their right to Ukraine.
If China believed they could effectively integrate Taiwan back into their nation without unrecoverable consequences, they would. The Russian invasion of Ukraine is their best opportunity to explore possible outcomes of any potential reclamation of Taiwan. China will not condemn Russia and lose an ally who is equally opposed to the encroachment of Western power.