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Taiwan’s President Tsai Ing-wen oversees a military drill during the Han Kuang annual exercise, in Penghu, Taiwan on May 25, 2017.Taiwan Presidential Office/Reuters

Taiwan’s top diplomat predicts the Western economic backlash over Russia’s military assault on Ukraine, combined with the fierce resistance Kyiv has mounted against the invaders, may force China to rethink any plans to seize the self-governing island by force.

Foreign Affairs Minister Joseph Wu said in an interview that Taiwan has been taking notes on how underdog Ukraine has thwarted Russia’s superior military forces from quickly conquering the country.

Russia has suffered a series of military failures in a land battle with Ukraine that is geographically less challenging than what Beijing would face in an amphibious assault on Taiwan, an island located about 160 kilometres off the coast of China. Taiwan also possesses technologically advanced U.S. weapons that Ukraine’s forces lack.

The fighting spirit of Ukrainians and severe Western economic sanctions against Moscow should give pause to President Xi Jinping’s determination to use military force to regain control over Taiwan, Mr. Wu said.

He said China’s leadership has to take into account that it could face similar economic sanctions from Western democracies if the People’s Liberation Army attempted to invade Taiwan, a vibrant democracy that was formed by Chinese Nationalist forces that fled the mainland when the Communist Party swept to power in 1949.

“I am sure that is going to be a very strong deterrent against China’s leaders from thinking about using military force against Taiwan,” he said.

Mr. Wu said he thinks the steady flow of weapons and support to Ukraine from other democracies is also giving China pause.

“I think they might think twice because of possible sanctions against China or the possible support that would come to Taiwan, and it may not work in their favour.”

However, Steve Tsang, a professor of Chinese studies and director of the University of London’s SOAS China Institute, said Beijing will also be learning lessons from the poorly prepared invasion by President Vladimir Putin’s Russia.

“Unless Russia will be completely crippled by Western sanctions and Putin falls from power as a result, China will mostly draw the wrong lessons from the war and not give up its plan to take Taiwan,” Prof. Tsang said. “So, Beijing is likely to defer the time frame to seize Taiwan, in order to get better prepared, but it will not change the overall plan and objective.”

Mr. Wu said Taipei must always be on guard for a possible Chinese invasion, and that’s why Taiwan’s military commanders are studying how effective Ukraine has been in countering Russian forces.

He declined to divulge what lessons Taiwan has taken from the Russian war against Ukraine but said his country will be ready to face off against China. Taiwan has sophisticated anti-ship missiles, modern fighter jets and is building eight diesel-electric submarines.

“We understand that we need to look at our weaknesses by viewing what is going on in Ukraine and try to improve our own defence capabilities. So when China unfortunately has to take military action against Taiwan, we are capable of defending ourselves,” he said. “I am sure the Chinese operation against Taiwan is going to be difficult and complicated, and it is not going to be easy.”

Beijing’s authoritarian government considers Taiwan a breakaway province, even though the Chinese Communist Party, which seized power in China more than 70 years ago, has never ruled the island. China’s leadership has not disavowed using force to take control of Taiwan, which peacefully transitioned to democracy from martial law in the late 20th century.

Prof. Tsang said he expects after watching Ukraine that Taiwan’s armed forces might shift “even more” to buying relatively light and mobile anti-ship and anti-aircraft weapons, rather than investing heavily in conventional big-ticket items such as large warships, jets or heavy tanks.

Mr. Wu said Taiwan is strategically more important than Ukraine because it is a world leader in manufacturing semi-conductor computer chips, essential for modern economies. A Chinese takeover of Taiwan would give China control over the production of chips for automobiles, smartphones, artificial intelligence and high-performance computing.

So far, he said Taiwan has not had to put its forces on high alert, even though Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin signed an agreement before the Feb. 24 invasion promising unlimited support. In recent years, Beijing has militarized the South China Sea and, over the past few months, has stepped up military sorties against Taiwan. On Oct. 1 and 2 last year, Beijing sent 80 military aircraft, including fighter jets and bombers, toward Taiwan, prompting the Taiwanese military to scramble fighters in response.

Because of the close bond between the Chinese and Russian leaders, Mr. Wu said he does not believe Beijing will be willing to play much of a diplomatic role in ending the war. Beijing has blamed the conflict on NATO expansion into Eastern Europe and criticized Western economic sanctions.

China is also profiting from the punishing economic sanctions imposed on Russia, he said. “They have already signed huge deals to purchase grain from Russia, to purchase energy from Russia at a price that is below the market price,” he said of Beijing.

Mr. Wu said Canada can help Taiwan by concluding negotiations on a foreign investment promotion and protection agreement, or FIPA, with the island to boost trade ties, by sending warships through the sensitive Taiwan Strait, and sharing insight on how to combat Chinese cyber and disinformation operations. Taipei also wants Canada’s support for its application to join the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact signed in 2018. China has also applied to join.

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