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Rising tide of sympathy in Ukraine for Taiwan

Aware of the huge potential of Ukraine’s relations with China, the Ukrainian President has attempted to play down the rising anti-China sentiment in his country. While economic compulsions may force Ukraine to seek Chinese investment, the sympathy for Taiwan among the people of Ukraine is unlikely to fade away soon

September 22, 2022 / 04:33 PM IST
A Russian self-propelled howitzer destroyed during a counteroffensive operation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region, on September 14. (Source: Reuters)

A Russian self-propelled howitzer destroyed during a counteroffensive operation of the Ukrainian Armed Forces, in Kharkiv region, on September 14. (Source: Reuters)

Ukraine, a victim of Russian military aggression since February, has begun to show growing affinity towards Taiwan, which has been facing growing coercive posturing from China in recent months.

The rising sentiment in Kyiv is to move away from supporting ‘strategic partner’ China on the Taiwan issue in favour of the 21 million people of the self-administered island who are bravely facing aggressive Chinese policies.

China had ratcheted up the heat on Taiwan by conducting a series of military drills with fighter aircrafts, warships, and live-fire exercises that involved firing ballistic missiles over the island to protest growing American involvement.

Chinese military exercises in the Taiwan Strait were prompted by a provocative visit to the island by US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month.

Pelosi was advised by the US military that it was not the right time to visit Taiwan. But she nevertheless decided to go there, forcing one of the worst crises in the Taiwan Strait in decades.


Subsequently, many more visits from the US have taken place to the island, provoking strong Chinese response.

On August 25, the first online meeting between the new pro-Taiwan caucus in the Ukrainian parliament and the pro-Ukraine caucus in Taiwan’s legislature was held, indicating the rising mood in Kyiv in favour of the besieged island.

Predictably, the development was watched closely in China and did not go down well with Beijing.

Observers said Pelosi’s visit and the Chinese response was a turning point in Ukraine as more parliamentarians began to take an active interest in Taiwan and wanted to engage with it.

Pro-Taiwan MPs argued that the two countries were similar in their desire to defend themselves from “imperialist authoritarian regimes.”

China, however, argues that Russia’s action in Ukraine is not comparable with the policies adopted by China in dealing with Taiwan.

According to Beijing, while Ukraine is a sovereign nation and the Russian action there provoked a strong response across the world, Taiwan was an internal issue as it was considered a breakaway province of China and not an independent country by the international community.

Since the beginning of the Ukraine war, China has tried to strike a diplomatic balance between Russia and Ukraine. Beijing has not directly held Moscow responsible for invading Ukraine, though it has not supported the Russian action either.

China has been stressing on the need to resolve outstanding differences between Russia and Ukraine through peaceful negotiations.

This has been ridiculed by anti-Chinese Ukrainians as “pro-Russian neutrality.”

The disappointment with China for not condemning Russia, as the US and the European countries as well as many Asian nations have done, was demonstrated by a section of Ukrainians right from the beginning of the Russian invasion.

China’s decision to support Russia on resolutions brought at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) led many more to question Beijing’s motives.

However, as the war continued to stretch on causing more destruction and death, China’s decision in September to participate in war games with Russia by sending a large military delegation changed the mood against China significantly.

More and more people have been asking what a strategic partnership with China was worth when it participated with Russia during the ongoing war, to coerce Ukraine through military drills.

This has now led more  Ukrainians to support Taiwan, especially the country’s parliamentarians, in its fight against China. Many in Kyiv are demanding that Ukraine break its strategic partnership with Beijing.

China and Ukraine entered a strategic partnership in 2011. In subsequent years, Chinese investment in and engagement with Ukraine have increased and deepened significantly.

Trade between the two sides has reached $18.9 billion, with China surpassing Russia as Ukraine’s largest trade partner. The two sides cooperate in energy, technology, agriculture, and trade. Beijing has also been importing military equipment and critical materials produced in Mariupol and Odessa.

The two countries signed a Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in 2013, and China has invested heavily in developing Ukraine’s infrastructure under its Belt and Road Initiative (BRI).

By setting up shop in Ukraine, Chinese companies want to take advantage of its access to the huge European market. It has identified Ukraine as a major hub for expanding the BRI into Europe.

Interestingly, Ukraine's embassy in China says that while China supports Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, Ukraine also remains committed to the “one China” policy. This, in effect, means that Ukraine acknowledges that Taiwan is a part of mainland China and not an independent country.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, aware of the huge economic potential of Ukraine’s relations with China, has made serious attempts to play down the rising anti-China sentiment in his country. He has insisted that China has consistently shown “neutrality” in Ukraine’s fight with Russia.

Zelensky said he wanted the relationship with China to be “reinforced and developed” every year. He also said that he wanted China and Chinese businesses to be involved in rebuilding Ukraine.

China’s concerns over a prolonged war in Ukraine jeopardising its trade and investment in the country and adversely affecting Chinese access to the European market was reflected during Xi Jinping’s recent meeting with Vladimir Putin at the SCO summit in Uzbekistan.

However, it remains to be seen how Ukrainian parliamentarians respond to China when the war ends and huge investments are required to reconstruct the country.

Economic compulsions might force Ukraine to seek Chinese investment and expertise for the development of the country. But the sympathy for Taiwan among the people of Ukraine is unlikely to fade away soon.
Pranay Sharma
first published: Sep 22, 2022 04:28 pm
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