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China’s Lessons from Russia’s War

For Chinese President Xi Jinping, a Marxist-Leninist dialectician, the events in Ukraine won’t fundamentally alter China's grand historical ascent. As a cautionary tale, Russia's military failures will simply impel China's leadership to make even more substantial preparations before seizing Taiwan.

MELBOURNE – Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine on February 24, two views quickly emerged in the West about what lesson China would take from the war. The first suggested that NATO’s failure to deter Russia – or to defend Ukraine directly – would inspire China to advance the timetable for a planned invasion of Taiwan, or even to capitalize on the chaos brought about by the war to attack the island immediately. But after Russia’s military ran into significant and unexpected challenges early on, an alternate line of analysis emerged suggesting that China has now been significantly deterred from ever attempting to take Taiwan.

Both of these views are superficial, misleading, and just plain wrong. Chinese President Xi Jinping is not the type of leader to let himself be pushed from his preferred course by anything or anyone – including Russian President Vladimir Putin. He and the rest of the Chinese leadership will certainly be drawing military and financial lessons from Russia’s war in Ukraine. But China will neither accelerate nor postpone its preferred timetable because of anything it sees happening on the battlefields of Donbas.

Nor will Xi’s determination to regain Taiwan change because of anything he sees happening in Asia, for that matter. Taiwan’s separation from the motherland has always symbolized the era of Chinese weakness at the hands of Japanese imperialism. For the Communist Party of China, the existence of a Taiwanese administration outside of the control of the government in Beijing is a raw, festering wound. Indeed, Taiwan’s reunification with the motherland is central to Xi’s promise to complete Mao Zedong’s revolution. That makes reunification essential both to the CPC’s political legitimacy and to Xi’s own deification within the CPC pantheon.