The war in Ukraine made it easier for the US to isolate China in the Pacific

Seoul, South Korea

A year after Russia invaded Ukraine, Xi Jinping’s support for Vladimir Putin has opened the door for the United States and its Pacific partners to shore up sometimes-frayed relations to the detriment of Beijing.

In the past few months alone, Japan has pledged to double its defense spending and acquire long-range weapons from the United States; South Korea has recognized that stability in the Taiwan Strait is essential to its security; the Philippines has announced new access rights to US bases and is talking about joint patrols in the South China Sea with Australia, Japan and the United States.

These are perhaps the most important initiatives, but they are far from the only events that have left China increasingly isolated in its own backyard as it refuses to condemn the invasion of a sovereign country by its partner in Moscow while maintaining military pressure on the autonomous government. Taiwan Island.

Analysts say all of these things likely would have happened had it not been for the war in Ukraine, but the war and China’s support for Russia helped grease the shoes to push these projects forward.

Take the situation of Japan, a country limited in its post-World War II constitution to “self-defense” forces. Now he will buy long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States, weapons that could well strike inside China.

“I myself have a strong sense of urgency that the Ukraine of today will be East Asia tomorrow,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a major defense conference in Singapore last summer.

In December, Kishida followed up with a plan to double Tokyo’s defense spending while acquiring weapons with ranges well outside of Japanese territory.

“The Japanese people have certainly taken notice of the situation in Ukraine, and it has made them more vulnerable as a nation,” said John Bradford, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratman School of International Studies in Singapore.

The nation to which Japan feels particularly vulnerable is China.

The People’s Liberation Army has been growing and modernizing its forces for years. On Sunday, Beijing announced its military budget for 2023, which will increase by 7.2%. This is the first time in the past decade that the army’s budget growth rate has increased for three consecutive years.

“The armed forces should intensify military training and preparation at all levels, develop new military strategic directions, devote more energy to training under combat conditions, and make well-coordinated efforts to strengthen military work in all directions and areas,” outgoing Premier Li Keqiang said. in the presentation of a report on the budget.

China’s ruling Communist Party has been lobbying Taiwan for years. He considers the island part of his territory, although he has never controlled it, and Chinese leader Xi has repeatedly refused to rule out the use of force to ‘reunite’ it with the Chinese mainland. .

There are fears that China will one day treat Taiwan like Russia treated Ukraine.

Tokyo leaders have said peace in the Taiwan Strait is essential to Japan’s security. It’s really nothing new, but the emergency in Japan is.

“Japan has been strengthening its defense posture for years. The situation in Ukraine has made politically easier the key element of Kishida’s new national security strategy, the expected next steps in this strengthening,” Bradford said.

In this image provided by the South Korean Defense Ministry, the US aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and South Korean warships seen during a combined US-Korea naval exercise on September 29.

In the current climate, South Korean leaders are looking at Taiwan through a similar lens.

“Peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait are essential for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and indispensable for the security and prosperity of the region as a whole,” Foreign Minister Park Jin said recently. at CNN.

There are fears in Seoul that if US forces are drawn into a conflict with China over Taiwan, South Korea will appear vulnerable in the eyes of Kim Jong Un in nuclear-armed North Korea.

This has led to calls for South Korea to be more dependent on its own self-defense, including some calling for it to acquire its own nuclear weapons.

Meanwhile, Seoul and Tokyo and working more closely together on defense issues, including joint naval exercises with the United States.

South Korea is also seeing growing demand for the weapons it produces, such as tanks, howitzers and fighter jets.

South Korea, the United States and Japan held a joint missile defense exercise off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on February 22.

He signed a multibillion-dollar deal with Poland, Ukraine’s western neighbor and part of the US-led NATO alliance, for all those items. And he also sells them in the region.

Last month, Korea Aerospace Industries announced that it would sell 18 of its FA-50 light fighter jets to Malaysia.

Another operator of these FA-50s is the Philippines. Manila is also a customer of Korean-made warships and offshore patrol boats.

And the network of cooperation becomes even more complex.

The Philippines is in talks with the United States, Australia and Japan for joint patrols in the South China Sea, where China occupies islands that the Philippines also claims.

And Manila agreed last month to give Washington increased access to military installations in the archipelago.

China may have been its biggest critic when it comes to the Philippines, regardless of what it does about the war in Ukraine, analysts said.

Former President Rodrigo Duterte was not a fan of Washington and was looking for ways to work with Beijing. But China never really showed appreciation for that, and its successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has been eager to work with the United States and its allies, analysts said.

“It is difficult for the new Marcos administration to justify accommodating Beijing’s policy preferences when previous attempts to do so by the previous administration have not been reciprocated,” said Jeffrey Ordaniel, director of maritime security. at the Pacific Forum and Adjunct Professor at Tokyo International University. .

“Beijing’s continued bullying, as we saw in the case of the Chinese Coast Guard blinding Philippine Coast Guard sailors with a laser (recently), has only pleaded for a stronger alliance. strong” with Washington, said Blake Herzinger, a nonresident. and Indo-Pacific defense policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute.

A photo released by the Philippine Coast Guard reportedly shows a Chinese Coast Guard vessel pointing a laser at a Philippine vessel earlier this year.

China’s pressure on the Philippines is having repercussions across the South China Sea, analysts said.

“Singapore and Vietnam have become even more open to a larger American footprint in the region. They don’t want China dominating Southeast Asia,” Ordaniel said.

But the war in Ukraine has not helped a key US partnership in the Indo-Pacific, the informal Quad alliance linking the United States, Japan, Australia and India, analysts say.

India, unlike the other three members, did not condemn Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

“When the United States, Australia and Japan tried to condemn Russia through a joint statement, India refused…India claimed that the Quad only addresses Indo- peaceful, and since Russia is not in the region, this topic cannot be discussed,” said Derek Grossman, principal defense analyst at RAND Corporation.

But he said the split in the Quad isn’t really detracting from his goal.

“The Quad is about how to deal with China,” Grossman said.


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