The repercussions of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine continue to be felt in the region and around the globe.
On March 8, experts from the Brookings Foreign Policy program held a Twitter Spaces conversation on implications for Asia and how key Asian countries are reacting.
Japan’s response to the crisis has been remarkable. Prime Minister [Fumio] Kishida condemned Russia’s war of aggression, really making a link and saying that these acts, using force to change borders, [are] a challenge to the international order and therefore that they’re important not just in the context of European security, but also Indo-Pacific security. So there’s nothing here of a mentality that “this is not our problem, this is happening in faraway lands”… And what I think is even more remarkable is that the Japanese public by and large agrees. There have been a number of polls done in recent days, one by Nikkei that showed that 61% of the Japanese public agreed with the sanctions imposed on Russia. And the more recent one by Yomiuri shows that 80% of respondents agree with taking this course of action because they feel that letting Russia grab land by force could encourage China to do the same in Asia. So Japan has been in lockstep with the G-7 in imposing punishing sanctions, for example, freezing assets of Russian banks, removing those banks from the SWIFT messaging system, restricting central bank transactions, freezing the assets of Putin and his close associates, imposing export controls to limit the access to advanced technology. But there are two other very rare measures here that Tokyo has adopted. One is that it has offered to bring back Ukrainian… refugees, which is something that Japan has not done frequently, and also to the decision to send non-lethal equipment… in addition to humanitarian assistance, which is something that Japan has traditionally done… Former Prime Minister [Shinzo] Abe’s policy towards Russia is basically dead… The idea that economic engagement could prevent a close Russia-China strategic partnership is now discredited… Because the timing of the crisis in Ukraine comes at a time when Japan itself is redrafting, revisiting its own national security strategy, its own defense planning documents… how… this is factored in into the new strategy will have longer term repercussions… In Japan, we’re not seeing the type of security revolution that you saw in Germany, but notable change is afoot.
One thing we know from history about India’s conversations with first the Soviets and the Russians is… if India wanted to be very blunt about what Russian’s actions are doing to Indian interests… those conversations will take place in private, not in public. And we’ve seen this in historical readouts where India will very frankly say potentially, and this is me speculating, that “hey, you know, President Putin, if one more Indian national is killed in Russian shelling, think about what that’s going to do to Russia-India relations”… What is this going to do to Indian economic growth and particularly at a time India, like other countries, is facing concerns about inflation?… What is it going to do to India’s ability to use economic capabilities to enhance military capabilities to use in the Indo-Pacific?… India… is watching China very closely… They are varied views about whether President Xi would take this moment to take military actions elsewhere. In D.C., we often [ask] will China take the option to do something against Taiwan? Well, India’s actually worried that… there could be an escalation at the [China-India] border again… There’s also this concern about supplies from Russia for frontline equipment. It’s not just the question of how do you pay for them, but at this point, if the Russian defense companies… need to be devoted to Russian troops and Russian equipment, are they really going to be able to supply India?
North Korea launched another ballistic missile at the end of February. It’s their ninth test this year, and just this morning I was reading reports that… there is satellite images of activity taking place at a nuclear facility where it looks like they’re building some construction sites. Now, in terms of whether North Korea is doing this under the cover of the U.S. and the rest of the world being distracted by the Russian invasion of Ukraine, I tend to think that the North Koreans move to their own drumbeat. So it may not be a necessary time because of Ukraine, but it certainly is favorable for the North Koreans for them to be able to test ballistic missiles. They’re also doing some testing on a reconnaissance satellite, so they’re improving their satellite technology to potentially develop a new weapons system… So the danger of this is that while the rest of the world is focused, and rightly so, on Ukraine, North Korea could be moving along with its nuclear program, it could be perfecting its missile capabilities. But even though we’re getting reports of this, there isn’t a lot of political will from the U.S. or globally to try to tackle this issue right now. There’s a fire going on that needs to be put out in Europe, and this has broader implications for the Indo-Pacific.
As tragic as the situation in Ukraine is and as heartbreaking and as maddening as it is, it does not foretell events, there is no inevitability to events in Taiwan, and I think it’s important for us to keep those distinctions in mind as we evaluate the seriousness of both of these cases. I think the point you also made about economic determinism is really important because the Chinese foreign policy thinkers for a long time have assumed that countries, particularly Western democratic countries, will be guided by their material interests and that as China becomes more central to global value chains and the global economy that it will become more cost prohibitive to challenge China on issues where China stakes out its interests. And what we’ve seen over the past two weeks is that there are at times principles and ideals that that that supersede material interests. And I think it should be helpful for the Chinese to sort of reevaluate some of their priors and their assumptions on how countries operate in the midst of crisis.
I don’t know if this is a situation that the United States can take to its advantage, but I think it’s certainly put a spotlight on the fact that we seem to be dangerously closer to a divided world where we have China and Russia on one half and the Western or the democratic side on the other half. And I think that kind of world, as history has shown us, is dangerous and prone to instability. And I think we would be much better off if China would be willing to support a world that’s less divided but more diverse, in which global civil society can at least agree to stand by fundamental principles like state sovereignty and territorial integrity. And so even though we’ve been disappointed by [China’s actions so far on Ukraine], I think it’s important for the United States and its allies to continue to message to Beijing at this juncture that China has more to gain by playing a constructive role going forward, even though it hasn’t up to this point, and to make good on its promise to be a force for peaceful negotiations in the crisis.