A Ukrainian serviceman walks past the vertical tail fin of a Russian Su-34 bomber lying in a damaged building in Kharkiv, Ukraine, on March 8, 2022. (Andrew Marienko/AP Photo)
Ukraine War Will Change Indo-Pacific and the World: Experts
By Andrew Thornebrooke
March 12, 2022 Updated: March 12, 2022
“Putin’s war on Ukraine is like the 9/11 terrorist attacks,” said Yasuhiro Matsuda, a professor of international politics at the University of Tokyo, during a recent interview with the Hudson Institute, a Washington-based think tank.
“It will change the world.”
Matsuda said that Chinese Communist Party (CCP) leader Xi Jinping shared a point of view with Russian leader Vladimir Putin, and that both believed the West was in decline and ultimately useless for their aims.
Matsuda said that he feared Xi’s beliefs would become more extreme, as Putin’s apparently have, with increased age and isolation, and because the Chinese leader personally emulated Putin.
“I think that their worldview might become more and more extreme,” Matsuda said.
“The personal dictatorship is very dangerous,” he added, noting the amount of control that Xi personally held over China.
Matsuda went on to say that, although Xi emulated Putin in his ruling of China, he was now likely taken aback by the Russian failure in Ukraine, for which China is likely to be suffering reputational damage due to its support of Russia.
“This time, Xi Jinping is kind of disappointed by Putin because the Russian military’s performance is so bad … Xi Jinping bet on Putin’s gamble, but it was not successful,” Matsuda said.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (l) shakes hands with President of the Peoples Republic of China Xi Jinping during a welcoming ceremony at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Council of Heads of State in Qingdao on June 10, 2018. (Sergei Guneyev/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images)
Xi fears that China is being encircled by U.S. influence in Japan and Korea, and through security partnerships like AUKUS, a trilateral security pact between the United States, Britain, and Australia, Matsuda said.
For this reason, Xi was likely looking to Russia in order to resist U.S. diplomatic and economic pressures, as it could use Russia’s war in Ukraine to divert allied resources away from the Indo-Pacific and towards Europe.
This is one reason, Matsuda said, Xi has apparently abandoned the CCP’s core value of national sovereignty and allowed Ukraine to be invaded, even though China previously signed a treaty pledging to defend Ukraine in the event of a nuclear attack.
According to Matsuda, Putin would not have been confident enough to invade Ukraine without knowing that the CCP would tacitly support the invasion. It has also been reported that Chinese officials explicitly asked Russian authorities to postpone the invasion of Ukraine until the end of the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Despite Russian military failures in Ukraine and increasing condemnations of alleged Russian war crimes, Chinese leadership recently reaffirmed that Russia is its foremost “strategic partner.”
The CCP also committed to purchasing natural gas with ruble and brought Russia into Chinese banking systems to help ease the brunt of Western sanctions.
Despite the apparent effort to split Western attention, however, the Pentagon stated that the Indo-Pacific remained its priority theater, and added that China was the “pacing challenge” and the issue of Taiwan was the “pacing scenario.”
Taiwanese sailors salute the island’s flag on the deck of the Panshih supply ship after taking part in annual drills, at the Tsoying naval base in Kaohsiung on Jan. 31, 2018.(Mandy Cheng/AFP via Getty Images)
The Struggle for Taiwan
The CCP maintains that the island of Taiwan is a breakaway province and must be united by force, if necessary, with the mainland. The island has been self-governed since 1949, however, and has never been controlled by the CCP.
Tensions over the possible invasion of Taiwan by the CCP have raised fears of a war between nuclear powers, as it is possible that the United States would join a war to defend Taiwan’s continued de facto independence.
During a recent discussion of the war in Ukraine and its implications for the Indo-Pacific hosted by the Center for a New American Security, a defense-focused think tank, experts addressed the issue of how Ukraine was shaping Indo-Pacific strategy and the difficulty of gauging just how the struggles of the Russian military in Ukraine were coloring Xi’s plans for Taiwan.
“I think it’s impossible for us from the outside to actually adjudicate the trade-offs in Xi Jinping’s mind,” said Ashley Tellis, a Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, a Washington-based think tank.
“My own instinct is that he would be reminded more clearly than before about the risks of what a potential invasion entail.”
To that end, Tellis said that it was vital the Untied States ensure that Taiwan had enough military capabilities to convince Xi that a fight would not be worth the reward.
“The only way that you reinforce deterrence between China and Taiwan is that you make certain that [Taiwan’s] defensive capabilities are increased,” Tellis said. “Whether those capabilities are increased unilaterally or through the assistance of the United States. That’s the only thing that holds balance.”
Tellis added that building a robust sense of “Taiwanese nationalism” and a “capacity to resist China” were the two variables that could realistically increase the cost to China in the event of a war.
“Irrespective of what Xi thinks, objectively we simply make it harder for him to pursue unification through force,” Tellis said.
Relatedly, Tellis said that the United States now faced a global challenge in maintaining its support of the international liberal order in the face of CCP and Russian aggression.
To that end, he said, the United States’ ability to deter China and Russia, and balance the peace throughout the Indo-Pacific, could prove to be the test that makes or breaks its status as the most powerful nation on earth.
“It impacts our vision of how we see our own role in the world,” Tellis said.
“If we don’t do it right, then I think our status as a superpower itself becomes open for debate.”
Andrew Thornebrooke is a reporter for The Epoch Times covering China-related issues with a focus on defense, military affairs, and national security. He holds a master’s in military history from Norwich University.
Diem ‘Richard’ Nguyen