BY JOSEPH BOSCO, OPINION
China, guilty of genocide, must condemn Putin's war crimes and not attack Taiwan
Vladimir Putin’s brutal war against the people of Ukraine has reminded the world of unpleasant realities that many had forgotten, including the existence of pure evil.
Russia also has revived history’s lesson that unprovoked aggression is a war crime — the first of the Nuremberg Trial convictions of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi accomplices.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) defines the crime as “planning, preparation, initiation or waging of a war of aggression … which, by its character, gravity and scale, constitutes a manifest violation of the Charter of the United Nations. … ‘Act of aggression’ means the use of armed force by a State against the sovereignty, territorial integrity or political independence of another State, or in any other manner inconsistent with the Charter.”
Beijing strives to define the Taiwan situation as an “internal” Chinese matter, just as Moscow contends that Ukraine is Russia’s internal business. Yet, like Ukraine, Taiwan clearly meets every test of statehood under international law: a permanent population, a defined territory, a government, and the capacity to conduct international relations.
Taiwan is treated as a separate political entity by the World Trade Organization, International Olympic Committee, Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, Asian Development Bank, and other international organizations. Thirteen member states of the United Nations have full diplomatic relations with Taiwan as a separate and independent country.
Any use of force against Taiwan would be manifestly “inconsistent with the Charter of the United Nations,” whose purpose is “to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which … has brought untold sorrow to mankind.” Russia is revisiting that scourge and that sorrow on the brave but vastly outgunned Ukrainian population.
The Taiwan Strait is an international waterway and any military conflict there would constitute a severe threat to Taiwan, as well as to other countries in the region, including China. When China fired missiles across those waters in the Taiwan Strait Crisis of 1995-96, the Strait was closed to international shipping and overflights, sending insurance rates soaring and disrupting trade throughout the connected South China Sea. What China threatens to do to Taiwan today would be exponentially more violent and impactful on the people of Taiwan, akin to the carnage Russia is inflicting on Ukraine.
Attacking Taiwan would not be the first time China has committed the war crime of aggression. It did so when it joined North Korea in invading South Korea in 1950. The two communist states were branded as aggressors by the United Nations, but the ICC did not yet exist.
During that same period, China also invaded and subjugated the independent political entities of Tibet and East Turkestan (now Xinjiang Province). Since then, it has committed crimes against humanity in both places, and the Trump and Biden administrations each determined that China is conducting genocide against the Uyghur and Kazak Muslims in Xinjiang.
President Biden spoke to Chinese leader Xi Jinping last week and asked him not to support Putin’s war in Ukraine, warning that China will suffer the same economic and diplomatic consequences Putin has brought upon Russia. But, despite the graphic evidence of massive war crimes being perpetrated by Russian forces on a daily basis, Xi is not inclined to condemn his “no-limits strategic partner.”
On the contrary, Xi seems committed to joining Putin as a no-limits strategic pariah, adding war crimes to the Uyghur genocide already recorded in the crimes-against-humanity section of his resume.
Xi is poised to earn not only secondary sanctions but direct and personal sanctions if he carries out his threats to attack Taiwan. China would incur the colossal costs of such a war that would involve the United States, Japan and other countries that would rally to the defense of another threatened democracy after Ukraine’s tragic ordeal.
All this violence is the inevitable consequence of the ambitions and predations of the two world powers that seek to overturn the liberal, rules-based international order that has benefitted so much of humanity for the past seven decades. Russia and China lead the attack on that system because it was built by the world’s democracies and espouses values and principles that are anathema to their tyrannies.
Putin and Xi declared their nefarious intentions in their joint statement in Beijing at the opening of the 2022 Winter Olympics just before Russia launched its criminal invasion of Ukraine. In a virtual declaration of a Cold War II against the West, Xi made clear that he supported Putin’s rationale for his aggressive policy: “The sides oppose further enlargement of NATO and call on the North Atlantic Alliance to abandon its ideologized Cold War approaches.”
While subsequently struggling not to get on the wrong side of the universal condemnation of Russia’s aggression, Beijing has yet to criticize Putin’s actions, even though it has allowed stories to circulate that it was not forewarned of the invasion.
Putin returned Xi’s favor with this language: “The Russian side reaffirms its support for the One China principle, confirms that Taiwan is an inalienable part of China, and opposes any forms of independence of Taiwan.”
The West, led by Washington, must step up its deterrence and dissuasion efforts with both Russia and China. No intelligence agency has reported publicly or leaked even a hint of evidence suggesting that either Putin or Xi is suicidal. Their regimes’ oblique references to a Third World War or the use of nuclear weapons no longer can be allowed to paralyze the West’s ability to meet its moral and strategic obligations to confront their aggression more directly. Otherwise, as with Hitler in the 1930s, there would be no end to Putin’s expansionist demands.
As former Supreme Allied Commander Wesley Clark has stated, Ukraine’s airspace is sovereign and it has the right to request Western help, such as a no-fly zone, to defend it under the collective self-defense principle of the U.N. Charter. It would then be up to Russia to challenge U.S. planes legally in Ukrainian airspace and incur the risk of war with a united and far more powerful NATO. As a fallback, Clark also favors allowing Poland to provide MiG fighter aircraft to Ukraine to defend itself.
As for China, Washington should do it the favor of finally answering its question during the 1995-96 Taiwan Strait Crisis: What will America do if China attacks Taiwan? This time, rather than saying, “We don’t know, it would depend on the circumstances,” Biden should dispense with strategic ambiguity and affirm in a formal policy declaration what he has said in a couple of offhand remarks: “We will defend Taiwan.” As with Russia and Ukraine, allowing doubts to persist about Western resolve inevitably leads to disastrous miscalculation by freedom’s enemies.
Joseph Bosco served as China country director for the secretary of Defense from 2005 to 2006 and as Asia-Pacific director of humanitarian assistance and disaster relief from 2009 to 2010. He is a nonresident fellow at the Institute for Corean-American Studies and a member of the advisory board of the Global Taiwan Institute