The Chinese will learn from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, just as they have from the USSR’s collapse. Vladimir Putin has gotten over-confident and impatient. His invasion of Ukraine is blowing back in his face as his troops fall back from Kyiv and the oligarch’s who support him lose their super yachts in France.
Compare this with his take over of Crimea; a much more low-key, steady approach: Focus on an area populated by a majority of ethnic Russians, foment discontent, back up resistance with military equipment and stage a shonky independence referendum followed by a declaration of secession. Repeat this in Donbas and you have a seamless expansion of the new Russian Empire, with just a few minor sanctions and an expression of frustration from the U.S. President.
Taiwan has several territories on the Chinese mainland and immediate coast that are pretty much indefensible. The Chinese may well be eyeing these with a view to repeating Russia’s success in Crimea. The next step might be the islands close to Taiwan. A gradual takeover would avoid a showcase invasion that provokes a spirited response.
The best hope we have of undermining the rising confidence of autocratic regimes is greater coordination. The Uyghurs, Hong Kongers, Taiwanese and any other democrats in the Chinese diaspora (Singapore?) ought to team up and be ready to respond in an orchestrated fashion to make any attack a multi-front action. If in fact self-determination matters more to them than being Chinese.