By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
The Year of the Rat brought a pandemic in 2020. The Year of the Tiger has ushered in a war and a continued pandemic. Russia invaded Ukraine without provocation more than a week ago. On the surface, the Asian community does not appear to be connected with this war. On the contrary…
The U.S. and Europe have been sanctioning Russia to make Vladmir Putin stop the war. Both China and Taiwan have been watching this war closely. Many Asian Americans’ heritage have been rooted in these two regions.
China is interested in the world’s reaction as well as U.S. actions over Russia’s invasion in Ukraine because Russia’s actions could have implications for China if it plans to reclaim Taiwan back as part of its country, or possibly, attack.
But that’s not all. China and Taiwan have a situation like the Russia-Ukraine conflict. Russia and Ukraine have close blood ties historically. Both were of Slavic origins. Before its independence in 1991, Ukraine was part of the Russian empire—the Soviet Union. The two countries’ citizens have many intermarriages and ties with immediate family members, as well as distant relatives living in both countries. You often find husbands from Russia and wives from Ukraine, and vice versa. To have a war between these two countries will create unnecessary tragedy, conflicts, and turmoil for these extended families.
When Chiang Kai-shek escaped to Taiwan after his army’s loss to Communist China, he brought with him thousands of mainlanders to the island in 1949. And there are a good number of marriages between Taiwanese and Chinese mainlanders.
To this day, China and Taiwan share a culture and language. Business and trade have been strong between the two.
Although Taiwan insists that it has developed a different identity, the ties between the two cannot be separated. If a war occurs, it might produce a similar reaction among the soldiers. A CNN report said that a Russian soldier had a hard time fighting the Ukrianians because he was confused and didn’t know why he was fighting someone who looked like him.
The biggest distinction between China and Taiwan is their form of government. Like despotic Russia, China is under Communist rule, and Taiwan and Ukraine are both democracies with free elections.
Secret warfare is out
China has probably learned from the war in Ukraine, that you can’t hide anything, at least not forever. Social media spreads the news like wildfire. Russia did not expect the world to watch its attack on Ukraine. Putin has repeatedly denied that Russia is the aggressor. However, Russia’s aggression was fully displayed on Google and other social media channels. According to columnist Thomas Friedman of The New York Times, Russia’s tanks were unexpectedly exposed on the first day of its attack on Google Maps “because Google wanted to alert drivers that the Russian armor was causing traffic jams.”
War replaces talent development
Ironically, Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder, is a Russian who immigrated to the U.S. when he was 6 years old. Lawrence O’Donnell of MSNBC interviewed Friedman, and said the lack of opportunity in Russia probably led Brin’s family to immigrate to the U.S. If Putin’s focus is to develop talent and not be involved in wars and destruction, Google might have been a Russian invention instead of the U.S.
China may be surprised that the world is on Ukraine’s side. If China wants to invade Taiwan suddenly, it may face a similar reaction. Risking their lives, journalists from all over the world, including the U.S. and Europe, are in different parts of Ukraine covering the war. I have never seen so much coverage before. Global views are not favoring Russia as it is assaulting a country so much smaller. With a population of 44 million, Ukraine is one third the size of Russia.
Even if Russia won, the journalists have continued to focus on Ukrainians’ bravery, resilience, and resistance. The West has reported few stories about Russian’s soldiers except when they die.
The cost of war
Putin has miscalculated in this war. The list of sanctions imposed against Russia is growing—flights, banks, even sports. The International Olympic Committee and the World Cup have stripped Russia’s right to host sporting events or participate in them. The Russian flag and anthem will also be excluded during those events.
The destruction shown live on networks is hard to watch. It might create an effect on China—resolving grievances through means other than war.
However, Putin thinks the opposite. The number of wars Russia has been involved in under Putin’s watch is numerous—including the Chechen Republic, annexation of Crimea, Afghanistan, Syria, and other small ones. He thinks war can unite his country, expand territory, and make him a hero. Wrong. Look at the number of protests against the war in Russia. Even if Russia wins, several legal experts are pursuing war crime charges against Putin.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has earned praise and admiration from all over the world, especially President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Before the war, not many people cared about Ukraine or knew who the president was. Now everyone says, “He‘s a hero.” Not like the Afghanistan president who was the first to leave when the Taliban liberated the country last year. When the U.S. offered to help him evacuate the country, Zelenskyy said, “I need ammunition, not a ride.”
No NATO in Asia
Taiwan is not Ukraine. The majority of Ukraine’s neighbors are on its side. Asia does not have NATO to lobby on Taiwan’s side. It doesn’t have a similar organization for Taiwan to lean on. Many Asian countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, and Laos have benefited from China’s aid to build roads, bridges, and other types of economic investments. China’s strategy is to isolate Taiwan.
Taiwan’s biggest ally is the U.S. It would be unlikely many Asian nations would be willing to be on Taiwan’s side if it goes to war with China.
China values social stability. It is their belief that stability is vital to the prosperity of a country. Even though China-Taiwan’s friction has existed since 1950, it has not engaged in a war. This is because both sides have exhibited restraint all these years to avoid war.
The two adversaries have worked hard on their infrastructure, building their economies, and improving their educational systems to compete on the world stage. Both have raised the standard of living immensely, and reduced poverty for their people. China is likely to be considered a world power and economy in the future with their advancement in transportation systems, such as the bullet train and numerous achievements, and exceeding the U.S. status as No. 1. Outsiders have also admired Taiwan for its strength in developing technology that is more advanced than the U.S. in chipmaking, good citizenship, and governance.
The “saving face” issue
Both China and Taiwan should observe how Putin gets out of this war. Putin’s assumption was that his massive and powerful military would contain Ukraine quickly and easily, and that its leader, Zenlenskyy, would instantly kowtow to him.
Instead, none of this is happening. The war has taken much longer than expected, and Putin isn’t winning. Nearly 500 Russian soldiers have been killed and 1,600 wounded, according to the Associated Press on March 2. To protect his ego and strong-man image, Putin can’t just exit and risk being seen as a loser, even though it would be the right thing to do. So he doubled down on the number of tanks going into the capital and even ordered a nuclear alert to instill more fear. It doesn’t matter that all sides can see that if the war drags on, it would create more suffering for both Russians and Ukrainians.
I am afraid that this is now a stalemate. The lesson for everyone is, don’t start a war as ending it would be just as consequential and difficult for the provocateur who worries about saving face.
Going to war will hurt not only both sides, but the whole world. And everyone loses.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.