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Andrey Kortunov

Ph.D. in History, Director General of the Russian International Affairs Council, RIAC member

The distance from Russia to Taiwan island amounts to more than 7,000 kilometers - not exactly what you would call a nearby neighborhood. Still, the recent US-China crisis over the Taiwan question has inspired a lot of passionate discussions in the Russian capital, like in many other capitals around the world. 

What might happen to the volatile security environment in the Taiwan Straits? Should we continue to consider a large-scale military conflict in East Asia only a hypothetical scenario or has it already become a visible possibility looming on the horizon? 

There is no apparent consensus in Moscow on what would serve Russia's interests better—further escalation, or rather de-escalation of the crisis.

I personally tend to believe that the logic of those who stand for de-escalation is more compelling than the logic of escalation supporters. The last thing that all of us need now is a new cycle of escalation between two great powers. As an Englishman would say, "A lean peace is better than a fat victory." I wish China has a lot of strategic patience, stamina and state wisdom in dealing with increasingly inconsistent and unpredictable US. 

The distance from Russia to Taiwan island amounts to more than 7,000 kilometers - not exactly what you would call a nearby neighborhood. Still, the recent US-China crisis over the Taiwan question has inspired a lot of passionate discussions in the Russian capital, like in many other capitals around the world. 

What might happen to the volatile security environment in the Taiwan Straits? Should we continue to consider a large-scale military conflict in East Asia only a hypothetical scenario or has it already become a visible possibility looming on the horizon? 

There is no apparent consensus in Moscow on what would serve Russia's interests better—further escalation, or rather de-escalation of the crisis. The arguments of many champions of escalation can be condensed to three major points.

First, since the US is perceived as the main challenge to Russia's security and even to its mere existence, it is nice to see the US getting into trouble elsewhere. The crisis around Taiwan Straits speaks volumes about the inability of Washington to conduct a coherent foreign policy. The longer the crisis lasts, the more damage it is likely to inflict upon US positions in the region and the more it will erode the global American leadership.

Second, if the China-US relations continue to sour, the value of Moscow in Beijing's eyes is likely to increase. More than ever before, China will need a reliable strategic partner in Eurasia in order to focus on Washington, which views China as a strategic adversary. That implies more political, military, economic and technological China-Russia cooperation.

Third, with the current crisis in East Asia unraveling, the international community might shift its attention from Ukraine to the Taiwan question. Not that this will necessarily change the Western attitudes toward the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, but this conflict will no longer remain the only game in town. Since economically Taiwan island is more important than Ukraine, in Moscow they can hope that the West will start gradually easing its current economic, diplomatic and military pressure on the Kremlin. 

These arguments may look cynical, but they are not devoid of any logic. However, champions of de-escalation have their own line of reasoning that deserves to be briefly presented here. 

First, a further escalation of the crisis over the Taiwan question would have grave implications for the world economy, including a likely global recession coming already this year and extending to 2023. This would undoubtedly affect all of Russia's prime trading partners, starting with, but not limited to China. The Russian economic difficulties, as significant as it is in 2022, will turn even deeper. 

Second, an extended full-fledged deadlock in US-China relations on top of the ongoing fierce confrontation between Russia and the West is likely to mean the end of the modern world order, universal multilateral organizations and fundamentals of international public law. We are likely to see permanent instability and even chaos in world politics, which will serve no one's interests, including Russia's.

Third, a prolonged stalemate between Beijing and Washington might sooner or later slide into a direct military confrontation. Though Russia is not close to Taiwan Straits, any conflict in East Asia will have a spillover impact on people in the rest of the world.

I personally tend to believe that the logic of those who stand for de-escalation is more compelling than the logic of escalation supporters. The last thing that all of us need now is a new cycle of escalation between two great powers. As an Englishman would say, "A lean peace is better than a fat victory." I wish China has a lot of strategic patience, stamina and state wisdom in dealing with increasingly inconsistent and unpredictable US. 

First published in the Global Times.

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Poll conducted

  1. In your opinion, what are the US long-term goals for Russia?
    U.S. wants to establish partnership relations with Russia on condition that it meets the U.S. requirements  
     33 (31%)
    U.S. wants to deter Russia’s military and political activity  
     30 (28%)
    U.S. wants to dissolve Russia  
     24 (22%)
    U.S. wants to establish alliance relations with Russia under the US conditions to rival China  
     21 (19%)
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