Taiwan believes that Chinese President Xi Jinping (習近平) is likely to be too focused on a key party meeting regarding his tenure as China’s leader to take invasive military action this year, regardless of what happens between Russia and Ukraine, two senior security officials in Taipei said.
The government has assessed the risk of a Chinese attack to be low, even if the US were to be distracted by a war in eastern Europe, the officials said on the condition of anonymity.
Leadership of the Chinese Communist Party is prioritizing domestic stability ahead of a twice-a-decade congress and would not take any action that jeopardizes Xi’s efforts to secure a third term, they said.
Moreover, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army still lacks the capabilities needed to guarantee the success of any attack on Taiwan, the officials said.
Regardless, China could exploit a shift in global attention toward Ukraine to ramp up military exercises or other efforts to influence political opinion in Taiwan.
Taiwan and Ukraine share similar security concerns, with larger, nuclear-armed neighbors seeking greater influence over their territory and no formal US alliance. The administration of US President Joe Biden believes that China has been gauging the US response to the buildup of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border as a proxy for how the US would deal with more aggressive action by Beijing against Taiwan, reports said last week.
President Tsai Ing-wen (蔡英文) has appointed a task force to monitor the Ukraine situation and evaluate its security repercussions on Taiwan.
“We will be on high alert and watch for anyone using this opportunity to make trouble,” Executive Yuan spokesman Lo Ping-cheng (羅秉成) said on Tuesday in response to a question about the significance of the Ukraine crisis to Taipei. “Taiwan has always been on high alert, but will be especially so when the situation in other nations is severe.”
The Ukraine crisis comes at a sensitive time for Xi, who is expected to secure a precedent-breaking third term as party leader in the second half of the year. In a sign of the event’s supreme political importance, several Chinese government agencies have declared maintaining a stable environment for the party congress to be a top priority for this year.
One of the officials cautioned that it was difficult to predict decisionmaking in a political system dominated by one man.
Such leaders could make sudden and seemingly irrational decisions to consolidate power or influence, the official said.
US Pacific Air Forces commander General Kenneth Wilsbach in Singapore said that he was concerned about China trying “to take advantage” of tensions over Ukraine.
“It wouldn’t be surprising if they tried something that would maybe be provocative and see how the international community reacts,” Wilsbach said.
Chinese warplanes made about 960 forays into Taiwan’s air defense identification zone last year, compared with about 380 sorties the year prior, Ministry of National Defense data showed.
Speculation that the Ukraine crisis shows the US’ reluctance to send troops overseas could feed Chinese “cognitive warfare” efforts against Taiwan, the other senior Taiwanese official said.
Taiwan believes that its strategic importance to the US is greater than Ukraine’s, due to its location and vital chip industry, the official said.
The relationship between Taiwan and China “has its own dynamics,” Presidential Office spokeswoman Kolas Yotaka said.
It “is not going to be fundamentally changed by what is happening between Russia and Ukraine today,” she said.
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