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Developing: The Real Threat from the Ukraine War Has Nothing to Do with Russia

  Most of the military news you’re going to read Tuesday will have to do with the war in Ukraine. A bit of trouble taking place roughly 5,00...

 Most of the military news you’re going to read Tuesday will have to do with the war in Ukraine. A bit of trouble taking place roughly 5,000 miles away from Kyiv, however, may be the ultimate legacy of conflict.

From Reuters: “Taiwan again warns Chinese aircraft in its air defence zone.”

Yes, “again.” As Reuters noted, Taiwan “has complained of regular such missions by the Chinese air force over the last two years, though the aircraft do not get close to Taiwan itself.” 

“Taiwan is currently in a heighten state of alert due to fears China could use Russia’s invasion of Ukraine to make a similar military move on the island, though Taipei’s government has not reported any unusual Chinese movements.”

However, China’s made it clear it intends to move, and soon, on Taiwan, which they see as a breakaway province that needs to be spanked like a naughty child — much like Hong Kong, but worse, since Taiwan is clearly an independent state. 

There are three ways Russia’s invasion of Ukraine serves a purpose for the Chinese Communist Party if they plan to execute their designs on Taiwan in the near future: It’s a distraction, an object lesson and a propaganda opportunity. 

The distraction part is obvious: Would you have heard about China’s latest saber-rattling in Taiwan if you hadn’t stumbled across this piece or the Reuters report?

Obviously, the brave struggle of the Ukrainian people against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s naked, sanguinary revanchism is a human tragedy on a monstrous scale. However, Russia’s closest major ally is more than happy to use the opportunity to advance its own irredentist designs.

Not only that, China knows America’s military isn’t what it once was. We keep hearing noise about how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine means we’re back on a Cold War footing — and need to adjust militarily.

Those who spit that unexamined bromide out fail to realize we’ve already been in a quasi-cold war with Beijing. Our military continues to get weaker in spite of the challenge, as the board of The Wall Street Journal noted in a March 7 editorial titled “Rebuilding U.S. Defenses After Ukraine.”

“One reason the U.S. is struggling to deter bad behavior is that adversaries know American military power is in retreat. Controlling the skies is indispensable to American warfighting in any theater, but the U.S. Air Force fighter inventory has fallen to about 2,000 from 4,000 aircraft in 1991, and the average age is 29 years old, up from 11.5 then,” the board wrote. 

“The Air Force has cannibalized readiness to buy more capable equipment, which it also needs to stay competitive. President Trump’s Air Force Secretary, Heather Wilson, was right that to deal with ‘the world as it is’ the U.S. needs 386 squadrons by 2030, up from 312 — especially more bomber and tanker squadrons to cope with distance in the Pacific.

“The Navy is working at the same clip as the Cold War with half as many ships, and the fleet is smaller and older than China’s navy,” it continued. 

“The sea service needs and wants many more attack submarines — a potent defense against China — but the Navy lacks the maintenance yards to keep up with even current inventory. Carriers need attack aircraft with longer range.”

Given that America will be Taiwan’s main ally in the event of an invasion, one would hope the Biden administration would get the message from Ukraine. If they have, they haven’t pivoted quickly. 

And then, there’s the object lesson Ukraine provides. As Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post noted, the People’s Liberation Army has taken notice of the asymmetric warfare in Ukraine and the importance of modernizing the armed forces, considering how Russia’s antiquated equipment doesn’t seem to be making the grade.

There are also similarities when you consider that much like Russia-Ukraine, China-Taiwan would be a war where two peoples were extremely similar — one where many Chinese have friends and family in Taiwan and visa-versa. As with attacks on civilians in Ukraine, innocent deaths in Taiwan could cause an uproar at home.

Former PLA instructor Song Zhongping told the SCMP said the lesson from Ukraine was that “minimizing casualties and not harming ordinary people would be the main concern of the PLA’s ‘Taiwan reunification operation.'”

Beyond that, of course, are the propaganda opportunities the Ukrainian conflict provides for China’s state-run media. 

The Global Times, easily the most flamboyant of the CCP’s major English language publications, has been making hay out of Ukraine like nothing else.

There’s the positive stories: “China’s first batch of humanitarian aid arrives in Ukraine,” a March 12 story was headlined. The Global Times didn’t bother to mention China had reportedly taken intelligence the United States had given it under the misapprehension China might be able to avert war and instead passed it right on to the Russians.

Other articles should give you a good idea what the angle for the rest of the propaganda is. March 6: “Ukraine crisis: US stirs up trouble globally but unable to solve problems.” March 13: “In Ukraine crisis, US finds itself in a position of permanent overreach.”

The intended audience for this stuff was just across the Taiwan Strait. The tone of these pieces are all the same: The United States is a bumbling, decadent superpower that can’t help but make a mess of things, just like they’ve been doing since the fall of the Soviet Union. 

The decay has gotten so bad, according to the Global Times’ hack opinion pieces, that while Washington was responsible for “stirring up trouble globally” and essentially forcing Russia to invade Ukraine, our power has decayed to the point where we can do nothing about the resulting chaos.

The writing itself is all sub-Pravda nonsense, but there’s a reason why it might resonate: The Taiwanese have seen the fall of Afghanistan. They’ve seen Putin’s willingness to invade Ukraine under Biden the same way they did under Barack Obama. (“A pattern,” as White House press secretary Jen Psaki guilelessly pointed out without quite getting the point.)

This isn’t to say we shouldn’t be paying attention to Ukraine; far from it.

The real threat, however, lies 5,000 miles east of Kyiv. Unlike Ukraine, where American troops were neither pledged nor expected, Taiwan will be the ultimate test of American power of both the hard and soft variety. 

China is looking to the situation in Ukraine for signals regarding how ready our administration and military are to deter or fight them over Taiwan’s independence. If we lose sight of that, the nation once known simply as “Free China” is as good as lost.

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