China is letting a tremendous opportunity slide through its fingers by not taking a leadership role in condemning and countering the Russian aggression in Ukraine. The Chinese leadership is allowing emotion to drive their positioning, believing that if Russia can get away with taking Ukraine they will be able to take Taiwan. For China, Ukraine is a test case for how dedicated the United States and Europe will be in their responses to the Russian takeover. They believe they will be able to devise a successful game plan for the takeover of Taiwan by not making the same mistakes the Russians make and by preparing the economic and political battlefield early to combat any sanctions the U.S. and Europe may attempt to use when Chinese forces enter Taiwan.
This strategic and tactical positioning of indirectly supporting Russia is a huge mistake for a country that wants to supplant the U.S. as the world leader. Generally, the Chinese are exceptionally good at playing the long game but here they’re placing short term gains, i.e. Russian energy and possible acceptance of the eventual takeover of Taiwan over the long term positioning that would earn them respect and praise in Europe, Africa and the Middle East. That respect would translate into greater gains over the long term advancing their geopolitical political position towards their goal of replacing the U.S.
This is the perfect example of emotion over logic in devising policy. China wants Taiwan, it palpably longs for the island when, in fact, it does not need it. Taiwan is not an economic threat to China like South Korea or Japan. Taiwan’s 690 Billon dollar GDP will not significantly increase China’s almost 18 Trillion dollar GDP. In fact since China and Taiwan compete in several areas of economic export some industry will be lost either on the island or the mainland. No, China does not need Taiwan but they want it and they’re trying to gauge via the Russia/Ukraine affair how much damage to their long term geopolitical plans taking the island by force might cause.
Well, the answer is: geopolitically speaking they will not be trusted and their long term plan to supplant the U.S. will be delayed indefinitely. However, should China be able to engage in realpolitik and suppress their visceral desire to take Taiwan, they could sweep several pieces from the chessboard in a succession of moves. The U.S. is hampered by weak leadership and a divided electorate and is making few decisive moves on the Ukrainian situation. Should China step up, condemn the situation as unwarranted aggression, and begin to assist Ukraine the Russians would be placed in an untenable situation and forced to withdraw their forces. China would be hailed as an international hero and move several rungs up their long term plans ladder.
This is probably not to be and the lesson to be learned from the situation is that emotion, even in geopolitics, can trump logic and practical thinking. China doesn’t need Taiwan but they WANT it, and are willing to allow their long term goals to slide in order to get it.