Possible Chinese Invasion of Taiwan Snagged by Ukraine War: Ex-NATO Chief

The West's collective response to Russia's invasion of Ukraine may have delayed China's plans to attack Taiwan, former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen said.

"That's also one of the reasons why the Chinese are not comfortable with the Russian attack on Ukraine, because China has learned that the West can actually unite on delivery of weapons to Ukraine, on severe, crippling sanctions against Russia," Rasmussen told Newsweek on Wednesday.

"And the Chinese realize that they could be subject to exactly the same treatment if they were to attack Taiwan."

Rasmussen was NATO secretary-general from 2009 to 2014, and prime minister of Denmark for eight years before that. He is hosting the two-day Copenhagen Democracy Summit on June 9 and 10.

More than 100 days since President Vladimir Putin of Russia launched a full-scale military campaign against Ukraine, China watchers have speculated on whether the Kremlin's adventurism would embolden Beijing to attempt something similar.

The United States has committed tens of billions in military aid to Kyiv, but the Biden administration made it clear that no American troops would be involved in a direct clash with Russian forces.

When it comes to Taiwan, a democratic island coveted by the Chinese leadership for decades, Washington had been more ambiguous about its potential response—until President Joe Biden appeared to break that taboo last month.

Speaking in Tokyo on a tour of Asia, Biden answered "yes" when asked whether the U.S. would "get involved militarily to defend Taiwan," even though he believed an invasion wouldn't be attempted.

The president's rationale has links to Ukraine, too, and spoke to a need for Washington to demonstrate resolve in the face of growing Chinese pressure against Taiwan.

"The idea that [Taiwan] can be taken by force...is just not appropriate. It will dislocate the entire region and be another action similar to what happened in Ukraine," Biden said. "And so it's a burden that is even stronger."

Rasmussen believes the president's off-the-cuff comments will now factor into Beijing's thinking when it comes to Taiwan.

"Biden spoke from his heart, when he—for the second time—expressed the policy that if Taiwan is attacked by mainland China, the U.S. will help and defend Taiwan. So for the Chinese, this is a very delicate situation," said the ex-NATO chief.

"And the bottom line is that the war in Ukraine has postponed the timing of a possible Chinese attack on Taiwan. Not stopped."

'Reunification' Plan

President Xi Jinping of China has articulated a vision of "reunification" with Taiwan by the middle of the century, the former Danish PM said.

"That is in 2049. And the Chinese are very patient people. So I think it's still their ambition to get this reunification and, if need be, by force. But it has become much more complicated now."

U.S. officials including CIA Director William Burns believe Beijing was surprised by Moscow's initial struggles in its now protracted siege on Kyiv, so much so that they may have changed China's own calculus—but not its determination— regarding its designs on Taiwan.

Analysts believe these lessons relate to its strategic approach rather than its timeline or political objectives. In April, Taiwan's defense minister, Chiu Kuo-cheng, said the war would change Beijing's invasion playbook.

"The Russia-Ukraine war has informed all countries, including our own, and our enemy is no exception," said Chiu. "We must continue to monitor [the situation] closely. We have a very good opportunity to learn, and we will use it."

Biden's remarks may have reinforced the Chinese assumption about intervention by the U.S. and others. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin is certain to be pressed on the subject while in Singapore, where he plans to meet China's defense minister, Gen. Wei Fenghe, on the sidelines of the IISS Shangri-La Dialogue this weekend.

Rasmussen's views on China's delayed invasion plans aren't shared across the board. Senior U.S. defense officials traveling to Asia this week told reporters they didn't see any meaningful changes in Beijing's timeline resulting from the war in Ukraine.

"We have substantial concerns about China's growing capabilities and the changing intensions in the Indo-Pacific, including around Taiwan, but don't think that Ukraine has been a substantial factor in accelerating or reducing that activity," one official said.

Ukraine War Postpones China Invasion Of Taiwan—Rasmussen
Former NATO chief Anders Fogh Rasmussen speaks during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on February 26, 2019. Rasmussen told Newsweek on June 8, 2022, that the West’s response to Russia’s war against Ukraine may have postponed China’s own plans to invade Taiwan. MANDEL NGAN/AFP via Getty Images