Wednesday, May 18th, 2022

Ukraine conflict: what’s behind Southeast Asia’s silent response?

in about two weeks Russian invasion of UkraineThe response from other parts of the world is being questioned. Last Wednesday, nine of the 11 Southeast Asian states voted for a UN General Assembly resolution rebuking Moscow for its aggression and calls for peace. Vietnam and Laos, Russia’s two historical partners, did not participate.

Aside from diplomatic votes, however, the response from Southeast Asian governments has been varied – and, some say, silent. Singapore made the rare decision to impose sanctions on Russia and Indonesia quickly criticized the actions of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Philippines, a US treaty ally, overturned and declared itself neutral. Meanwhile, Thailand and Malaysia are silent.

Russia is seen as a major trading partner

Several regional leaders have called for peace but have tried not to take sides in the conflict. Russia is the ninth largest trading partner of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), which is a possible reason why some leaders have chosen not to criticize Moscow. More importantly, Russia is the region’s largest arms supplier, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.

More than 80% of Vietnamese military equipment has been provided by Russia since 2000. Moscow has also sold weapons to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines, while it is one of the main providers of munitions to the military junta that has taken power. Myanmar in February 2021. Last December, Jakarta hosted the first Russia-ASEAN joint maritime exercise.

Professor Zachary Abuza of the National War College in the United States said the military angle could be exaggerated. Most of Russia’s arms exports are concentrated in Vietnam and Myanmar, he said, and has failed to expand sales to other regional states as Moscow had hoped. “There are a lot of one-time deals,” Abuja said.

Instead, he points to other explanations. He said that the Southeast Asian political elite see Putin as a strong leader who has raised his voice against the US-led world order. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has described Putin as his “favourite hero”. Last year, Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen awarded the Russian leader an “Order of Friendship”.

Avoiding ‘interfering’ in distant matters

According to some analysts, Southeast Asian governments do not want to disappoint China, which has so far offered a covert response to the Ukraine war. Several Southeast Asian states are in competition with Beijing over disputed territory in the South China Sea, and the region is not keen on escalating US-China rivalry.

But Shada Islam, a Brussels-based commentator on Asian international relations, believes the response is less than a “traditional warning of the region to interfere in the affairs of other countries” with China, particularly on what it is far from. The crisis appears to be in Eastern Europe.

Days after the invasion, the Philippines’ defense secretary, Delphine Lorenzana, said, “It is not our job to interfere with what they are doing in Europe.”

US and European countries are “frustrated and a little confused about this and hoping they can celebrate” [Southeast Asian governments] To change their minds,” Islam said.

For decades, Southeast Asian governments have adopted a strict policy of non-interference in the affairs of any other country – the so-called “ASEAN Way.” However, after several regional governments took a tougher stance by dissuading Myanmar’s military junta from regional summits last year, cracks appeared in the situation.

Ukrainian women sit inside a van, as artillery echoes nearby, as people flee from Irpin on the outskirts of Kyiv, Ukraine, March 7, 2022. (AP)

S in Singapore. Joel Ng, a research fellow at the Rajaratnam School of International Studies, called it “disappointing” that Southeast Asian states are not defending the principle of non-intervention “more vigorously”.

According to Ng, most governments have gone as far as they want to in this crisis. He will have to abide by Western sanctions on Russia, but believes it is highly unlikely that others will join Singapore in implementing their own unilateral measures against Moscow.

There is also much debate about why the war in Ukraine began in the first place, often with perspectives influenced by national sensitivity. Opinions are divided between the US and China, but most Southeast Asians determined not to be dragged into the orbit of any superpower, according to the latest State of Southeast Asia survey published last month by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishaq Institute Is.

“While against Russia’s use of military force against civilians and violations of Ukraine’s sovereignty, regional countries must also speak up at the root cause of the war: the expansion of NATO in Eastern Europe that fuels Russian insecurity,” argued Avi Fitriani. Diya, A. Professor of International Relations at Universitas Indonesia.

Critics call for scathing response

Yet there is a belief that not criticizing Putin’s intentions in Ukraine – where the war threatens to mock international law and is also testing Western resolve to defend the sovereignty of small states – is directly aimed at Southeast Asian countries. can make an impact.

Singapore’s Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan said, “As long as we, as a country, do not stand up for the principles that lay the foundations of the independence and sovereignty of small nations, our existence and prosperity as a nation will continue.” Rights can also be questioned. , said.

This, in fact, appears to be a segmentation issue. For some, the war in Ukraine is a distant issue that Southeast Asians can do little to affect, and any involvement in it will only bring unwanted difficulties for themselves. For others, the Ukraine war has very real implications for the region.

With the exception of Singapore, it is striking that “most states vehemently deny that Russia’s justification and invasion of Ukraine undermines the fundamentals of international law and sets very dangerous precedents,” Abuja said. said.

“If Russia can make a broad unilateral claim to the territory of a sovereign state based on cultural affinity and history, what can stop China from doing so?” she added.