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8 Lessons for Taiwan from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

Misha Zelinsky: remarks at Henry Jackson Society | Monday 10 October 2022

Thank you for the opportunity to speak,

When discussing Taiwan, we’re describing 23 million people on a vibrant island democracy being consistently menaced by the Chinese Community Party.

As an Australian, I can tell you this is eerily familiar.

Australia is staked in the future of all democracies — hence our large support for Ukraine — but for the first time since World War Two, Australia does not have the luxury of super power conflict being an entire hemisphere away from us.

History is on our doorstep.

The holiday is over.

Today, we are assessing the lessons from Vladimir Putin’s war of choice and butchery. I am sitting in Kyiv having witnessed it first hand only hours ago.

What happens in Ukraine, matters everywhere — our futures are intertwined.

But, there are questions to be asked first. And these are of ourselves.

How is it we are seeing the biggest land war in Europe for 75 years?

Why has it taken a relatively young, underdeveloped, former soviet democracy to inject meaning into the West?

How have we sat idly by while democracies have either backslid or disappeared over 20 years?

Why are fewer people seeing democracy as the best system to deliver for them?

Why — to put it most simply — are we allowing the bad guys to win?

So, then, how do we reverse the long democratic recession?

How can we — the self-defined good guys — prevail?

8 Lessons from the Ukraine War:

1. Don’t appease Dictators — seems easy? And yet, how many gates and redlines have we passed through on our way to this war? Extraterritorial murders, misinformation campaigns, electoral interference, annexations and illegal invasions. On that record, why wouldn’t Putin feel emboldened in his assessment that the West is weak? It seems it was easier to have values during the Cold War, because there were no dollars at stake.

2. Take Dictators at their word — for years those of us who warned about the menace of Putin and Xi’s CCP have been cast as Cold War warriors. My response? Don’t listen to me, but at least listen to them. They’ve made their plans clear for years. It’s high time we took Dictators at their word and acted accordingly.

3. Know the contest – Winning the game means understanding the rules. Putin and Xi’s ‘no limits’ partnership authorising the Ukraine invasion shows their hand. Helpfully, it drags autocratic political warfare out of the ‘grey zone’ and into the open. So yes, we are in a new kind of Cold War. A more complex one of enmeshed economic, information and technology systems to be sure — but, let’s win it.

4. Unity is strength — as a unionist, it will come as no surprise that I believe in strength in numbers. But, look at Putin’s fear of NATO and the reaction of other border states in immediately joining that great alliance. That’s why Putin has spent two decades pulling at the threads of democracies, while Xi wants to design a global system that is safe for autocrats, while bullying smaller nations one on one — they fear our collective strength. So, we must pull democracies in tighter. Taiwan should join the CTPP, while EU membership for Ukraine should be fast-racked.

5. Live up to our values – If we want the world to follow us, we must lead by example. Unfortunately, bribery is effective — and particularly well used by the Dictator Club. But elite capture is also short-term. Linking our aid to universal goods like transparency, anti-corruption, press freedom and governance can mean losing ‘access’ to theatres we intend to compete in. Long-term, it pays dividends once citizens reject captured elites. But the power of example is key. Democratic hypocrisy breeds cynicism and a world safe for autocrats.

6. Values require defending – Autocrats prey on weakness. Shamefully, it took days of Ukrainian bravery and dying for appropriate sanctions and weapons delivery. We must arm early and effectively, have a clear sanctions menu, and make autocrats think twice.

7. Have a plan for Day 2 — The cost of living crisis and European protests we are seeing should worry us all. Democratic governments are rightly constrained by the will of the people and inflation is the great destroyer of prosperity and consensus. Beyond making the case for collective action, we need to understand the other side of the sanctions coin, and help shelter our economies and the most vulnerable from the consequences. We can’t let sanctions become a war on the poor.

8. Results matter – Democracies won the Cold War through superior outcomes not theories. Eastern Europeans didn’t read Jefferson and give him the debating points over Marx. They tore down the Berlin Wall because free democracy was providing a better life. Today, the CCP is severing the link between economic prosperity and personal liberty with a system it says lifted 850 million non-voting Chinese out of poverty. Democracies have stopped delivering at home. And the world is noticing.

Winning this contest isn’t about asking others to choose sides. It means being our best selves.

In closing, we should ask why Xi Jinping wants Taiwan gone. The answer is that it looks exactly like a democratic China. That’s why it can’t exist. And that’s why it must be defended.


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