As Ukraine grapples with the anticipated Russian invasion of its territory, on the other side of Eurasia Taiwan has published for the first time a guide to civilian survival in case China fulfills its promise to incorporate the autonomous island — in this case, by force.
The 28-page manual, published by the country’s Armed Forces, is designed to deal with a “military crisis”, ie Chinese invasion, and natural disasters. In it, principles such as stocking food and supplies and where to find bomb shelters are taught, guided by cell phone messages.
In addition, survival techniques to face massive fires and collapsed buildings are also presented. Some countries, like Sweden in the shadow of the Russian colossus since the countries dueled in the 18th century, regularly edit this type of manual.
Novelty is a sign of the times. The invasion of Ukraine is compared by many to something that could happen to Taiwan. The Quad, the US-Japan-India-Australia alliance even issued a warning to Beijing, saying the communist dictatorship should not repeat what its ally Vladimir Putin did in the Pacific.
There are obvious external similarities: a giant country has territorial ambitions linked to ethnic ties in a smaller, neighboring territory. But the historical processes are completely different, as are the objective conditions for an attack.
Ukraine was once part of the Russian Empire and the Soviet Union, and has a significant Russian-speaking population. Taiwan was the island where those defeated by the communist revolution that ended in 1949 took refuge, and over the years they established an autonomous regime — authoritarian and now democratic and aligned with the United States.
From a military point of view, Taiwan has one huge difference: it is an island. This facilitates a blockade against their supply routes, but would require an amphibious operation. Only 10% of its coastline is favorable for landing troops, and therefore it is heavily defended. Its mountainous terrain also makes it a nightmare for soldiers and tanks to move around.
Beijing says it wants what it calls Taiwan’s peaceful reintegration into its territory. But he never ruled out the use of force, as there are no signs that Taipei will change its mind, on the contrary.
American support has grown since the start of the Cold War 2.0 between Washington and Beijing in 2017, with successive visits by top American officials to the island and renewed arms supply deals. Last year, it was revealed that US military personnel spend time in Taiwan training their local counterparts.
China has responded to this with a rise in military threats, with large-scale amphibious landing exercises that observers fear are the prelude to an operation on some of Taipei’s most distant islands in the South China Sea.
In addition, the deployment of formations of military planes to test the speed of reaction of the Taiwanese forces, obliged to send fighter jets to accompany and remove the adversaries of their airspace, has become a constant. The biggest in history took place in October.
The island’s diplomatic status is ambiguous. It is autonomous, but not recognized as independent by the United Nations. Competes as Chinese Taipei in international sporting events. The US, in establishing diplomatic ties with China in 1979, implicitly recognizes Beijing’s policy of unification.
In practice, however, they are direct supporters of pro-democracy movements, although President Joe Biden said, in a recent conversation with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, that he does not support the island’s independence. In the same conversation, the Chinese was admonished not to help his main ally, Putin, in the war effort and against Western sanctions.
More importantly, through the agreement, they promise to help Taiwan in the event of external aggression, in addition to providing it with advanced military equipment.
The uncertainty of Washington’s degree of commitment and the inherent difficulties of invading a mountainous island without causing enormous damage to a population considered to be sister who seek to govern seem to deter China from going to fights. Most analysts felt the same way about Putin about Ukraine.
Going further, there are analysts who fear something that has not been hinted at here: an attack on Taiwan in the wake of the action in Ukraine. China seems to have preferred a position of observation, not condemning the war but calling for peace.
A second front of concern for Washington, however, is open in the region, with increasing nuclear provocations by North Korea, which is also an ally of Putin and Xi. This Tuesday, an American aircraft carrier arrived in the region, filled with rumors that, after missile tests, the Kim Jong-un dictatorship may carry out a new nuclear test.