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Ukrainian soldiers take positions in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. Russia pressed its invasion of Ukraine to the outskirts of the capital Friday after unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks from three sides in an attack that could rewrite the global post-Cold War security order.

Ukrainian soldiers take positions in downtown Kyiv, Ukraine, Friday, Feb. 25, 2022. Russia pressed its invasion of Ukraine to the outskirts of the capital Friday after unleashing airstrikes on cities and military bases and sending in troops and tanks from three sides in an attack that could rewrite the global post-Cold War security order. (Emilio Morenatti/AP)

Taiwan’s president played down concerns that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could trigger a similar crisis in Asia, warning against any efforts to use the crisis in Europe to sow panic in Taiwan.

President Tsai Ing-wen condemned Russian President Vladimir Putin for damaging global stability and violating Ukraine’s sovereignty, a nation that shares similar security worries with Taiwan.

“I want to stress that the situation in Ukraine and in Taiwan Strait are fundamentally different, not only because of the natural barrier of the Taiwan Strait, but also Taiwan’s geopolitical and strategic status,” she said in a speech in the southern city of Tainan Friday morning.

She also warned the public to be wary of any “external forces” using fake information about Ukraine to cause panic about a possible threat to Taiwan.

One example of what Tsai characterized as “cognitive warfare” against the island was an offer by the Chinese government to evacuate any Taiwanese citizens from Ukraine. The Foreign Ministry in Taipei said the offer was a “disgusting” attempt by Beijing to use the crisis in Ukraine for political propaganda in an effort to discredit the Taiwanese government. There are currently just 33 Taiwanese citizens in Ukraine, according to the ministry.

Some 160 km (100 miles) of sea separate Taiwan from China, a nation of 1.4 billion people whose government has threatened to use military force to stop the leadership in Taipei from moving toward formal independence. That threat is a part of daily life in Taiwan, though officials in Taipei see the current risk of a Chinese attack as low.

One reason for that is the leadership in Beijing wants domestic stability before a twice-a-decade congress later this year that is likely to hand Chinese President Xi Jinping a precedent-breaking third term in power. Officials in Taiwan also see the People’s Liberation Army as lacking the capabilities to guarantee the success of any attack.

Chinese state media heaped scorn on Tsai’s expression of concern for Ukraine Friday. Tsai’s empathy for Ukraine is “unreasonable self-pity,” the China Daily wrote in an editorial, citing an unidentified official at Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office.

The dispute between Ukraine and Russia is between two sovereign countries while Taiwan is merely a Chinese internal issue, the article states.

While there are few signs of widespread unease in Taiwan, markets have been jittery. Foreign investors offloaded a net NT$53.4 billion ($1.9 billion) of Taiwanese stocks Thursday, the most in a year. The benchmark Taiex stocks gauge rose 0.3% at the close on Friday while the Taiwan dollar was largely unchained versus the greenback as of 2 p.m. Taipei time.

Tsai also reiterated her government’s support for U.S.-led sanctions against Russia. Earlier Friday, Economics Minister Wang Mei-hua told reporters at the Legislature in Taipei that “Taiwan will review exports to Russia strictly based on the Wassenaar Arrangement,” adding: “We will talk to allies about other sanctions.”

Taiwan is not a formal member of the agreement, a 42-country non-proliferation regime focusing on export controls for conventional weapons and sensitive dual-use goods and technologies.

China has ramped up military, economic and diplomatic pressure on Taiwan during Xi’s time in power. Chinese warplanes made some 950 forays into Taiwan’s air-defense identification zone in 2021, more than double the previous year. Taiwan’s Defense Ministry detected nine Chinese military aircraft off Taiwan’s southwest on Thursday, the day Russia mounted its attack on Ukraine.

The U.S. has strengthened its support for Taiwan under presidents Donald Trump and Joe Biden. The Biden administration believes that China has been gauging the U.S. response to the earlier build-up of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border as a proxy for how Washington would deal with more aggressive action by Beijing against Taiwan. Biden said earlier in his term he would defend Taiwan from a Chinese attack.

The U.S. approved a $100 million sale of military equipment and services to Taiwan in February, prompting China to say it would sanction Raytheon Technologies and Lockheed Martin.


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