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War in Ukraine diminished China's hope of easy victory in Taiwan: Peter Zeihan

Russia's performance and the international response undermined Beijing's assumptions about invading Taiwan

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Taiwanese soldier planting the flag in Hsinchu, Taiwan.

Taiwanese soldier planting the flag in Hsinchu, Taiwan. (AP photo)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Geopolitical analyst and consultant Peter Zeihan discussed the economic, demographic, and political landscape in East Asia with Taiwan News in early February.

In part one of the interview, Zeihan explained China’s ongoing demographic crisis. In part two, he shares his perspective on the potential for military conflict between Taiwan and China. In his view, the likelihood of a serious military engagement between Taipei and Beijing is relatively low.

However, this somewhat optimistic view is tempered with the caveat that, in the midst of China’s catastrophic population decline and Xi Jinping’s (習近平) increasing isolation at the reins of power in Beijing, political outcomes may be unpredictable. In Zeihan’s estimation, the current military conflict in Ukraine has heavily influenced Beijing’s calculus toward its plans for a military operation to capture Taiwan.

In his interview with Taiwan News, Zeihan outlines four key assumptions that the leadership in Beijing likely held prior to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. However, over the past year of conflict, all four of those assumptions have been almost entirely undermined.

The first assumption is that Beijing could win the war quickly and easily. In light of the prolonged conflict that Russia has committed itself to in Ukraine, in addition to the geographic advantage that Taiwan has over Ukraine in an invasion scenario, this assumption is “out the window,” says Zeihan.

The second assumption relates to the effectiveness and reliability of Russian weaponry and logistics equipment, which China has heavily invested in. Zeihan suggests that the performance of Russian weapons and hardware in Ukraine may be causing China some “serious buyer’s remorse.”

The third assumption relates to the possibility of international sanctions that other nations would likely use to target China. Given Russia’s experience, China must understand the risks that sanctions would present.

“If you take the sanctions that are on Russia and put them on Beijing, you get a deindustrialization collapse, complete with a famine in less than six months,” he said.

Similarly, the fourth assumption, which Zeihan thinks "really terrifies the Politburo,” is the idea that Beijing could evade international boycotts if it were to attack Taiwan. Beyond government sanctions, Zeihan believes the prospect of global companies abandoning investments and walking away from the Chinese economy may serve as a strong incentive for Beijing to avoid military action.

At the end of part two, Zeihan discusses how a war would affect Taiwan’s advanced semiconductor industry, and how Washington might respond.

Zeihan offers a warning to Taiwan that its days as the primary manufacturer of the highest-end chips are not going to last much longer. He says this period is headed toward its end “regardless of what happens with the United States or war with China.”

Part two of Peter Zeihan’s interview with Taiwan News can be viewed below. Keep an eye out for the final part of the interview which is coming soon. In part three, Zeihan discusses Taiwan’s economic outlook and some serious problems with Taiwan’s domestic energy policies.