By Benedicta Kwartang and Lake Dodson
As Vladimir Putin’s “Special Military Operation” in Ukraine inches closer to its seventh week, most of the nations of the world seem to be united under one demand: this invasion must stop.
While the outbreak of violence was condemned by a majority of the most powerful countries, the Chinese government continues to advocate for the idea of “peace talks” between parties.
The official stance of China on the crisis has remained unchanged since the beginning of the conflict. Beijing has repeatedly announced that “China does not interfere in the internal affairs of others.”
Considering similar Chinese responses to fairly recent international crises, such as the invasion of Kuwait, the Falklands War, and the invasion of Grenada, this decision to remain neutral is not surprising.
However, what is unprecedented is the Chinese public’s response to the conflict in Ukraine. Many everyday citizens fan the flames of conflict on personal social media pages, praising the invasion and comparing Ukraine to the island of Taiwan.
“This is the most excited day in the year of 2022,” says a Chinese user on a post with tens of thousands of likes and shares, “because Russia attacked Ukraine! I am so happy about it! … [Putin is] my idol! What a handsome, tough, and domineering man!”
She finishes her sentiments by stating that “it feels like we are going to conquer Taiwan shortly[…]it is so great, awesome [sic].”
Videos like this one can easily be found across Chinese social media platforms. Douyin, the Chinese version of TikTok, has an active base of 600 million daily users.
Viewership has only increased after the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with many users being sponsored by China to exposit this specific type of boastful and confrontational message.
This government-employed reasoning has been named “wolf-warrior diplomacy” after the widely popular Chinese movie Wolf Warrior II. Like the film, this political approach emphasizes unapologetic nationalism and holds violence in the name of a virtuous cause in high regard.
With the rise of this dangerous ideology in the public consciousness, the number of Chinese citizens that see Taiwan as a rebellious state which must be recaptured with force continues to grow.
What does this rising aggression within the mainland’s population mean for Taiwan? How does the closely watched violence between Ukraine and Russia influence the mentality, national sentiment and military preparations of the island state?
For Taiwan, the answer to these questions are inspired by the underdog Ukraine’s shocking response to Russia: fighting back.
While scholars debate over how closely the situation in Ukraine can be compared to Taiwan, most seem to agree on the potential for Ukraine’s nationalism to influence Taiwan’s attitude as it responds to threats from Beijing.
Over seven out of ten Taiwanese citizens recently said they are willing to fight for their country if China launches an invasion like Russia. National unity this cohesive almost surpasses the level of domestic support that the American military has experienced since the 9/11 attacks.
Amid this renewed national identity, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-Wen clarified that “if its democracy and way of life are threatened, Taiwan will do whatever it takes to defend itself.” Bold statements like these are reinforced with President Ing-Wen’s acknowledgment of American troops training on Taiwanese soil in October of last year.
Recent successes by Ukraine against Russia in ambushing supply relays, using guerilla tactics against key military positions and destroying expensive military equipment has given Taiwan the hope that it is possible to be victorious against a more imposing foe.
In addition, Taiwan has more cards to play compared to Ukraine. The island’s unique geography limits an attack from Beijing to either April or October.
Taiwan is also an advanced techno-democracy with a huge semiconductor industry. While the U.S. is hesitant to take any active action to defend Ukraine, many argue that the island’s dominance in chip production would be beneficial for triggering a more proactive response from Western economies who are dependent on these technological exports.
At its core, nationalism means the protection of sovereignty and territory. As Ukraine fights to do just that, Taiwan is being inspired to think more highly of its own self-defense. Taiwan and Ukraine are two vulnerable countries whose defense mostly relies on help from the United States and its European allies.
Both Russia and China’s militaries substantially overpower those of Ukraine and Taiwan. However, Ukrainians are not backing down. Civilians have armed themselves to defend their families, their homes and their country.
A new sense of self-determination is taking hold of Taiwan. Following the events in Ukraine, the Taiwanese military received a flood of new applications to enlist. So many, in fact, that over 1,000 applicants still remain on the waiting list as of the most recent reports from March 18, 2022.
While Beijing denies any similarities between Ukraine and Taiwan, Taipei continues to strengthen its security and use the slogan “Today, Ukraine, tomorrow, Taiwan!” to rally support for defense preparations.
Russia’s ineptitude to complete any of its official military objectives has only bolstered Taiwan’s sense of nationalism. Conversely, this renewed sense of self in Taiwan has spurred the wolf warrior ideologues in China to press harder than ever that “it’s the best chance to take Taiwan back now!”
Regardless of what the future holds for Ukraine, Russia’s invasion has had a psychological impact on both Taiwan and China that merits close attention. A Chinese attack on Taiwan is likely imminent, as Taiwan’s growing sense of separateness mirrors a growing urge by China to react to this affront.
The situations faced by Ukraine and Taiwan by their respective adversaries reflect a self-fulfilling cycle of violence and imperial ambition, similar to a snake eating its tail. And like that famous illustration of a snake on the Gadsden flag, the bold message Taiwan is increasingly sending back to China and their wolf warriors is clear.
“Don’t tread on me.”
Benedicta Kwarteng is a regular writer for the Review. She studies International Relations and Political Science at the University of Hartford.
Lake Dodson is one of the Review’s newest contributors. He studies Political Science and Global Security at the University of Mississippi.