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Why China Is Still Watching Ukraine So Closely

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine changed the rules of diplomacy. As Russia and China show budding unity, the world's diplomats must look at the effects of Eastern Europe on East Asia — and Taiwan specifically.

Picture of Australia PM, U.S. president, Japan PM and India PM at the Quad summit

Japan: Prime Minister of Australia Anthony Albanese, U.S. President Joe Biden, Prime Minister of Japan Fumio Kishida, Prime Minister of India Narendra Modi, pose for photos at the Quad summit

Dominique Moïsi


PARIS — A few days ago in Tokyo, during the “Quad” summit (the security group of Japan, Australia, India and the U.S.), President Joe Biden promised to use force if China ever attacked Taiwan. Shortly after, the White House made it clear that nothing had changed in the doctrine of "strategic ambiguity" which was (and remains?) U.S. policy on the question of Taiwan.

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Where do these semantic variations come from? Do they reflect the deep personality of the U.S. president, who at this age and acquired experience, does not hide his distrust regarding the subtleties of diplomatic language?

Or more profoundly, is this change a direct consequence of the international context that radically shifted on Feb. 24 when Russia invaded Ukraine?

Moscow and Beijing get closer

In fact, it is no longer possible to address the question of Taiwan as though the invasion of Ukraine did not happen. At first, a wind of optimism blew from Taipei to Washington: the military difficulties that Russia faced felt like a warning to China and that this would maybe bring a few years of security to Taiwan.

What if the invasion of Ukraine was encouraging to China?

But as time passes, as Russian troops are slowly advancing in the Donbas region, hope was replaced by a completely different feeling. What if the invasion of Ukraine was encouraging to China?

On the eve of the French presidential election, I was interviewed by Chinese journalists. They directly brought up the subject of Ukraine and Taiwan: “You understand, young people in our country are nationalists. They want to take back Taiwan as fast as possible. And if need be, by military action.” Were they carrying a message of warning from Chinese authorities, or were they simply being frank with me, as I had been in my own answers to their questions regarding the future of French politics?

One thing is certain, the day after Joe Biden's tough talks in Tokyo regarding America's unlimited commitment to Taiwan, in a deliberately provocative show of force, Chinese and Russian strategic bombers flew over the Sea of Japan. They did not violate any rights as they stayed above international waters, but the message was anything but friendly and seemed to demonstrate the "unlimited" friendship formalized in Beijing at the opening of the Winter Olympics between China and Russia.

Expansionist ambitions

And what if Moscow and Beijing are encouraging each other in their respective revisionism and expansionism? If that were the case, wouldn’t it be time for the U.S. to come out of its “strategic ambiguity” towards Beijing? Isn’t it time to call a spade and spade and tell the Chinese that if they were to give in to the temptation and take Taiwan by force, they would be faced with America?

Has Vladimir Putin not been encouraged to invade Ukraine in 2022 by the more than uncertain response of the international community to the capture of Crimea in 2014? Shouldn't it be urgent to dissuade China from adopting the same behavior towards Asia as Russia has towards Eastern Europe?

From the South China Sea to the South Pacific, Beijing is adopting an increasingly aggressive behavior that no longer hides its expansionist ambitions. However, Taiwan is not Ukraine, and China is not Russia.

Photo of night market in Taiwan

Luodong (Taiwan) night market


Revisionism vs. the status quo

“Never forget that Great Britain is an island,” said political scientist André Siegfried. Taiwan is also an island. There is no Poland, no Baltic states, nor Romania on Taiwan’s borders. Engaging with it means delivering weapons directly to it on its territory.

And contrary to what Beijing claims, the “Quad” is not the Asian NATO. In its support to Taiwan, and in the event of an invasion by mainland China, Washington would be almost alone on the front line.

The “Quad” is not the Asian NATO.

Meanwhile, clarity, far from being a universal strategic imperative, can also constitute a major risk. One of the most worrying elements of the current international situation is that the main actors all seem (except for the European Union, as it already is a strategic actor) to be revisionists to different extents. The Cold War was between two groups, one in favor of the status quo behind the United States and the other revisionist backing the USSR.

Powers fighting for influence

There is nothing of the sort today. From Beijing to Moscow and Washington, each seem eager to transform the current existing order so they can spread their influence.

This confrontation between revisionists is even more problematic and dangerous due to the nuclear deterrence becoming more and more abstract. It is as though, from a military standpoint, nuclear weapons seem a little less frightening. Their use on the cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki goes back far in the past, nearly 80 years.

While China and Russia seem ever closer in their desire to move their pawns and impose their respective powers on their regional environment, we must do everything we can to resist them. However, we need to do that without providing them an extra measure of determination. To be firm with Moscow and Beijing is one thing; to talk openly about regime change in Moscow is another.

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U.S., France, Israel: How Three Model Democracies Are Coming Unglued

France, Israel, United States: these three democracies all face their own distinct problems. But these problems are revealing disturbing cracks in society that pose a real danger to hard-earned progress that won't be easily regained.

Image of a crowd of protestors holding Israeli flags and a woman speaking into a megaphone

Israeli anti-government protesters take to the streets in Tel-Aviv, after Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Defence Minister Yoav Galant.

Dominique Moïsi

"I'd rather be a Russian than a Democrat," reads the t-shirt of a Republican Party supporter in the U.S.

"We need to bring the French economy to its knees," announces the leader of the French union Confédération Générale du Travail.

"Let's end the power of the Supreme Court filled with leftist and pro-Palestinian Ashkenazis," say Israeli government cabinet ministers pushing extreme judicial reforms

The United States, France, Israel: three countries, three continents, three situations that have nothing to do with each other. But each country appears to be on the edge of a nervous breakdown of what seemed like solid democracies.

How can we explain these political excesses, irrational proclamations, even suicidal tendencies?

The answer seems simple: in the United States, in France, in Israel — far from an exhaustive list — democracy is facing the challenge of society's ever-greater polarization. We can manage the competition of ideas and opposing interests. But how to respond to rage, even hatred, borne of a sense of injustice and humiliation?

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