Wednesday, February 8

The Ukraine war will impact Asian politics

The Ukraine war has entered its third month with no diplomatic resolution in sight. Despite this, some have argued that while the war will have an impact on Russia, its neighbours, and the rest of Europe, it will have little consequence for Asia or the global order. This is wishful thinking at best, and shortsightedness at worst. The Ukraine crisis is not simply about the European security order. It has huge ramifications for the future of order in Asia. And by extension, given that Asia comprises nearly 60% of the world’s population and 32% of the world’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP), it also has enormous ramifications for the future of global security and the economy.

There is little doubt that the Ukraine war will, and already has, changed the nature of politics in Europe. Most notably, Germany has reversed decades of post-World War II foreign policy. It has announced that it will build up its military (jettisoning its reluctance to invest in its military), look for alternative energy supplies (mitigating dependence on Russian oil and gas), and most recently, even supply heavy weaponry to Ukraine (an act it had resisted until this month).

But the impact of Ukraine will not be confined to Europe. If this war drags on, economically, politically, and diplomatically, Asia and the Asian political order will change. Some of these changes have already taken place.

The most obvious short-term impact is on the economy. Oil, wheat, and corn prices have skyrocketed. Many Southeast Asian countries dependent on these imports, such as Thailand, Vietnam, and Singapore have seen shortages and felt the impact on basic services such as transport, electricity, and fuel. Indeed, in Vietnam, some gas stations have run out of gas. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) countries have considered boosting relations with West Asian countries and Venezuela to secure alternative supplies of oil. Rising commodity prices threaten to hinder Southeast Asian countries’ recovery from the pandemic, leading to an increased risk of political and economic instability.

Moreover, more than 600 multinational companies (MNCs) have divested from Russia resulting in “de-globalisation,” proving that it is apparently possible to economically decouple as the West has done from Russia. This means it could, in the long-term, as the New York Times recently put it, fracture the world into economic blocs. This would have profound and isolating consequences for Asian countries seeking to do business with the United States (US), China, and Russia.

Politically, the Ukraine war has already resulted in divisions in Asia. Japan and Korea are worried about China and territorial sovereignty, and, as perhaps expected, joined the US in condemning Russia. However, the Asean bloc is divided. On one end, the Myanmar junta, which is close to the Russian government, has praised Moscow’s actions. On the other, Singapore, which has long worried about balancing China and the US in the Asia Pacific, has condemned Moscow. But there are some countries in the middle — Vietnam which, like India, is highly dependent on Russian arms and defence exports, and also has a comprehensive partnership with Ukraine, has abstained from condemning Russia in the United Nations.

Finally, there are the diplomatic ramifications of the Ukraine war, which have the potential to restructure order in Asia. The current international order is based ultimately on the Westphalian system. The 1648 Peace of Westphalia created the inviolable principle of territorial sovereignty and integrity that later international orders drew on.

The US, the European Union, and Asian countries such as Japan, Korea, and Singapore worry that if Russia succeeds in violating Ukraine’s sovereignty and faces little consequences, it will embolden China vis-à-vis Taiwan, as well as other areas in the Pacific that China lays claim to. Beijing is acutely conscious of this worry — Chinese ambassador to the US, Qin Gang, recently wrote in the Washington Post, declaring that China supports the concept of territorial sovereignty but that (directly contradicting President Vladimir Putin’s claims), unlike Ukraine, Taiwan is an internal affair. India may think that Taiwan’s territorial integrity matters less for its security interests than for the US, but it should certainly think about the future implications for its own border territories which China also lays claim to as inviolable territory.

The Ukraine war is currently confined geographically to Europe. Even if it does not spill over into Asia, it is crucial to understand that the longer it persists without resolution, the greater the chance that it will have important ramifications for Asia.

Manjari Chatterjee Miller is Senior Fellow, Council on Foreign Relations, and Associate Professor at Boston University The views expressed are personal

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