The Taiwanese and Japanese people now have a clear picture of what military aggression by a much larger power looks like as Russia continues its destructive invasion of Ukraine, even as the Chinese threat grows louder in the East.
In Taiwan, the psychological impact of the Russian invasion and Western response is difficult to overstate. The rumblings from Moscow that Ukrainians have dealt with in recent years are comparable to China’s incessant psychological war on the democratic island. Putin’s aspirations for bringing who he sees as wayward Russians back into the fold echo in Asia as China never misses an opportunity to declare Taiwan to be a breakaway province.
Make no mistake, the Chinese Communist Party is paying close attention to the speed and unity of the Western response to Russia’s invasion. And while the U.S. and NATO have imposed harsh economic sanctions and supplied Ukraine’s defenders with arms and aid, there are no NATO planes overhead or boots on the ground.
The unified sanctions must give Chinese President Xi Jinping pause as his country is much more integrated into the world economy. In fact, the European Union has overtaken the U.S. as China’s largest trading partner, and similar financial and trade sanctions would have devastating effects on its growing economy.
On the flip side, Taiwan’s civilian and military leaders are receiving daily textbook training on both effective defenses against an authoritarian neighbor with superior firepower and how a determined resistance can rally the world behind its cause.
In Japan, the post-WWII dedication to being a peaceful nation has taken a pounding in the way of Germany, which is making new commitments to modernize its military forces to face 21st century realities and not 20th century regrets.
In fact, Japan recently announced a sharp reversal in not only policy but tradition to take in Ukrainian refugees and send bulletproof vests to the nation’s defenders. The dangers posed by Russia’s attacks on Ukrainian nuclear facilities are not lost on the Japanese people, and the limits to what others around the world can or will do are also sharply defined.
There’s also the friendship and threats shared by Japan and Taiwan. Former Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe made this abundantly clear in the run-up to Russia’s invasion when he declared “a Taiwan emergency is a Japanese emergency.”
With both the historical record and current aggressive and authoritarian regimes for neighbors, the lessons taught by the Russian invasion are not lost on Taiwan or Japan. And there is no doubt that China is closely watching the Western response and will weigh it against future ambitions.