For Washington, it is a nightmare scenario. Russia rolls into Ukraine and China launches an amphibious assault on Taiwan.
In a series of short, sharp coordinated attacks, Beijing and Moscow move to “upend” the old world order and consign the United States’ dominant power status to the trash bin of history.
Chaos reigns at the United Nations as Russian troops occupy Kyiv and the Chinese military round up and intern Taipei’s Democratic Progressive Party government.
As UN delegates debate the diplomatic repercussions, Washington and its allies in Europe and the Asia-Pacific impose massive economic sanctions. In turn, this fuels an unprecedented crash in global markets and a stampede by the world’s major companies out of China.
Pure Hollywood-style hullabaloo or a realpolitik reality?
“No one doubts that a Chinese military takeover of Taiwan would radically change East Asia’s security order, just as a Russian military takeover of Ukraine would upend the security order of Europe,” former Swedish Prime Minister Carl Bildt wrote in a commentary for Project Syndicate at the end of last year.
“But what has not yet been fully appreciated is the possibility of both happening simultaneously in a more or less coordinated fashion. Taken together, these two acts would fundamentally shift the global balance of power, sounding the death knell for diplomatic and security arrangements that have underpinned global peace for decades,” he said.
Fact or fiction:
- “Such a scenario is not as farfetched as it sounds,” Bildt pointed out.
- “Although China claims to stand for non-interference in [the] internal affairs [of] other countries, it is scrupulously silent on the issue of Ukrainian sovereignty,” he added.
- “There is no reason to think it wouldn’t back a renewed Russian assault on that country if doing so served its own purposes,” Bildt said.
- President Vladimir Putin is determined to rebuild Russia’s old sphere influence during the Soviet era and carve out a new Eastern Bloc.
- President Xi Jinping has vowed to reunify democratic Taiwan with China by force if necessary and close the final chapter from the civil war more than 70 years ago.
Big Picture: Russia is already weighed down with sanctions after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. As for China, it would become an international pariah if it invaded Taiwan, suffering massive economic damage.
Delve deeper: The island democracy is a global leader in cutting-edge microchip production. Those advanced semiconductor plants remain critical for technology used by the US military and the broader economy. But they are just as critical to Beijing’s massive industrial complex.
Lessons from history: “China wants to regain its historic regional role and push back US military influence. [But] misinterpreting Washington’s resolve and capabilities could have disastrous effects were Beijing to read US military restraint over Ukraine in a similar light,” former US diplomat Brian P Klein, a geopolitical and economic strategist, said.
End game: “All of this may come to a head later this year after Xi is crowned president for an unprecedented third term in office, the longest in China’s modern history,” Klein wrote in a commentary for Barron’s last month.
Worst-case scenario: “If Xi turns his sights on gaining control over territory by force, then the US and several of its allies may be compelled to respond in kind … [but] this is a worst-case scenario,” Klein said.
China Factor comment: Collaboration or concoction? Beijing and Moscow are not a goose-step apart when it comes to their abhorrence of liberal democracies. And there loathing for Washington’s foreign policy. But would Comrade Xi risk it all before the 20th Communist Party National Congress in the fall? That is the trillion-dollar question.