Eyes turn to China as it hesitates to admit invasion of Ukraine; Taiwan deploys defensive fighter jets

The moment Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged the breakaway regions of the “Donetsk People’s Republic” (DPR) and the “Luhansk People’s Republic” (LPR) on Monday, the eyes of the world turned to China to gage Beijing’s reaction and to speculate on whether Putin’s aggression towards Ukraine would spark an opportunistic move on Taiwan.

Now, following a full-scale attack by Putin on Ukraine, it appears predictions that China will not allow the Russia – Ukraine crisis to go to waste may be frighteningly close to coming true, as Taiwan is once again forced to scramble its air force in response to Chinese aircraft breaching Taiwan’s air defense zone.

According to a report from Reuters, nine Chinese aircraft, including “eight Chinese J-16 fighters and one Y-8 reconnaissance aircraft, which flew over an area to the northeast of the Taiwan-controlled Pratas Islands at the top end of the South China Sea.”

Taiwan’s defense ministry said Taiwanese fighters took to the air as a warning to the Chinese aircraft and air defense missiles were deployed to “monitor the activities.”

While Taipei has raised its alert level, it reports no unusual movements from Chinese forces.

This is hardly the first time China has dipped into Taiwan’s protected air space. The last major incursion on Jan. 23 involved 39 Chinese aircraft, and fly-bys have been sporadically occurring since, and with far fewer aircraft, but the timing of this one has understandably put Taiwan and the world on edge.

Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry reaffirmed its claim that Taiwan has always been part of China and stated bluntly that Taiwan is “not Ukraine.”

Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying attempted to debunk any similarities or connections between the crisis in Ukraine and Beijing’s situation with Taiwan.

“Taiwan is not Ukraine,” she said. “Taiwan has always been an inalienable part of China. This is an indisputable legal and historical fact.”

It’s a convenient way for Beijing to justify supporting Putin’s fight for Ukrainian separatists without giving an inch to the people of Taiwan.

And with President Putin’s acknowledgment of China’s claim on Taiwan, a quid-pro-quo form of support is not just expected, it is, for China, a necessity.

According to a report in Business Insider India, Senior Editor for the Chinese state-run Xinhua news agency, Ming Jinwei, wrote in his WeChat blog that China needs to support Russia, as it will need Moscow’s support when it moves on Taiwan.

“China has to back Russia up with emotional and moral support while refraining from treading on the toes of the US and EU,” Ming wrote. “In the future, China will also need Russia’s understanding and support when wrestling with America to solve the Taiwan issue once and for all.”

“Therefore,” Ming concluded, “with regard to the Ukraine crisis, China should understand Russia’s legitimate security concerns.”

The Chinese media appears to have received official instructions on how exactly the Russia-Ukraine issue should be covered.

On Tuesday, state-owned Horizon News accidentally posted an official memo banning posts that are “not positive toward Russia or positive toward West” to its Weibo page.

Indeed, China seems hesitant to even use the word “invasion” in the same sentence as Russia.

At Thursday’s press conference, when pressed to characterize Russia’s actions as more than just a “situation,” Chunying told reporters, “This is perhaps a difference between China and you Westerners. We won’t go rushing to a conclusion.”

As for Taiwan, it remains resolute in its support of Ukraine and condemnation of Russia’s aggression.

In a tweet on Wednesday, Taiwan’s Vice-President Lai Ching-te stated, “The people and government of Taiwan stand with Ukraine. The principle of self-determination cannot be erased by brute force.”

This is a developing story.


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Melissa Fine


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