Not Drawing a Parallel. Ukraine and Taiwan: An Indian Perspective

Book Chapter April, 2024

Russia’s war against Ukraine has not only had economic, diplomatic, and geopolitical repercussions, but also exaggerated the fear of accelerated conflicts in the Indo-Pacific, a region with several unresolved conflicts (from Northeast Asia to the Himalayas). The dissonance in political stands on the Russia-Ukraine conflict among Asian states is also a manifestation of this fear of the Indo-Pacific being unwittingly caught in the new Cold War situation precipitated by the Ukraine war in the wake of increased ideological bipolarization.

On the one hand, China, India, and the states of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), among others in the Global South, have chosen neutrality, dialogue, humanitarian aid, and abstention in multilateral forums. India and the Global South see this as a currently applicable “independent” approach to secure their respective interests (e.g., energy, food, and weapons security) while also not souring historical associations and continuing outreach with the West. However, for China, which has been falling out of favor with the West, the intent is certainly to showcase solidarity with the anti-U.S. sentiment while coalescing China-centered Global South/emerging economies. The expansion of both the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa plus (BRICS+) is evidence of China’s promotion of the “true spirit of multilateralism and multiculturalism” in developing economies.

On the other, U.S. treaty allies like Japan, Australia, and South Korea have not only provided nonlethal military aid (including bulletproof vests, blankets, helmets, and medicine) but also embraced the West’s hardline approach, including punitive sanctions against Russia, as a means to protect national interests and territorial sovereignty against growing intimidation from authoritarianism. Their hardened stance is also part of a growing trend in the Indo-Pacific toward strengthening defense capabilities, evidenced through increased military spending, amid a shared concern about the accelerated North Korean nuclear threat and its growing convergence with China, as well as China’s military adventures in the South and East China Seas, Indian Ocean, and Taiwan Strait.

In this context, the other crises in Asia notwithstanding, the long-standing Taiwan question is especially relevant not just regionally but globally. Primarily, the reason is Taiwan’s centrality for China. The long-term success and legitimacy of the People’s Republic of China (PRC)’s ruling regime, namely the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), is intricately interlinked with the prevention of Taiwanese independence and with ultimately achieving Taiwan’s reunification with China. Following President Xi Jinping’s record re-coronation at the 20th National Congress, the reunification pursuit has received a significant thrust, evidenced by the harsher tone on Taiwan as compared to the 19th Congress.

Besides, the Taiwan contingency bodes ill for the Asian stability, including economic repercussions on an emerging region due to the Taiwan Strait being one of the most lucrative maritime trade routes that connect Northeast Asia to the West. The question of Asian states’ “interdependence” on China and its resurgence to fuel their overall growth, while they are acutely aware of the need for the U.S. to balance Chinese assertiveness and maintain the Cross-Strait status quo, is a rather valid concern.

Moreover, the issue involves not just the U.S., but also U.S. allies like Japan and Australia, as well as its partners like India, which fears the domino impact of the Taiwan crisis on the Himalayan border and in the Indian Ocean region. Officials in Australia and Japan, in particular, have alluded to supporting the U.S. were it to decide on defending Taiwan. The two have recently also deepened their military cooperation by signing a landmark pact to share military intelligence on China. Importantly, the four states of Australia, India, Japan, and the U.S., through their growing bilateral connections as well as via their security grouping, the increasingly relevant Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad), are attempting to create a stronger deterrence network, if not a security architecture, against China’s growing belligerence.

Against such a scenario, what can be made of the drawing of parallels between Ukraine and Taiwan? Is it justifiable or needed to ascertain a level of deterrence or preparation measures against China? Or is it an exercise in futility, or worse, sensationalism? In a similar vein, to what extent would China count on lessons from the Ukrainian war? Could Indo-Pacific states like India and Japan recalibrate their Taiwan stance for the greater good, i.e., regional security?


This chapter is an outcome of the 23rd International Symposium on Security Affairs 2022 titled “The New Normal of Great Power Competition: The U.S.-China-Russia Relationship and the Indo-Pacific Region” held on December 7, 2022, organized by the National Institute for Defense Studies, Japan. The full outcome of the conference can be download here.

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