Russia and Ukraine are again mired in conflict. With diplomatic and media support from the Western world including the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the EU, Ukraine is possibly capable of maintaining a balance with Russia. This has kept the confrontation between the two countries alive for several years.
Russia and Ukraine had intimate relations during the Russian Empire and the days of the Soviet Union. However, it was because of the strong connection that the two sides were beset with insurmountable contradictions during the disintegration of the Soviet Union. Russia has been slapped with strong sanctions by Western countries due to the Ukraine crisis, while Ukraine itself has suffered more from deteriorating relations with Russia. The country has been split since Crimea was lost and eastern Ukraine declared independence.
Compared with Eastern Europe, East Asia has been fortunate not to be caught up in protracted unrest.
First of all, there have been no such serious geopolitical “ulcers” in the past few decades in East Asia, although various regional problems have emerged. In contrast, the disintegration of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia left intractable wounds in Eastern Europe, not to mention the civil war in Yugoslav, Chechen Wars, Russia-Georgia War, and the Ukrainian crisis.
Second, there are no such organizations such as NATO in and around East Asia. The US cannot control East Asia as easily as it can on Europe. Although disputes exist in East Asia, peace and development have trumped geopolitical struggle.
Third, after the Cold War, Soviet Union-US confrontation changed to Russia-US confrontation, of which Ukraine is victim. East Asia is largely free of such an implication. The contradictions among regional powers are relatively independent, and the strategic driving force is also weaker. On the contrary, in Eastern Europe, NATO’s eastward expansion led by the US is an extension of the Cold War, and Ukraine has become a new victim of the US-Russia conflict.
East Asia and neighboring countries should cherish peace in the region, keep resolving disputes gently and avoid being the focus of games between bigger powers.
China, India and Japan are the largest countries in the Indo-Pacific region. There have been frictions and even confrontations between China and Japan as well as India in the past few years, but they were eventually reined in. Thankfully, China-Japan and China-India relations are both getting warmer.
The South China Sea dispute is another topical issue. In spite of intervention of external forces, the dispute has also cooled down to a large extent. The Philippines, Vietnam and other countries finally chose to prioritize peaceful development as their strategy instead of being the puppet of foreign forces.
The most significant uncertainty seems to lie in Taiwan. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) relies heavily on foreign forces and tends to provoke the Chinese mainland. Nevertheless, Taiwanese local elections indicate that the Taiwanese society seems to have the opposite take. But it remains to be seen what will happen in Taiwan in the near future.
The United States has already shifted its strategic focus to Asia, and American elites have recently thought more about the Indo-Pacific than Europe. If disputes such as the Ukrainian crisis appear in East Asia, it will become easier for Western powers to upset the apple cart. Therefore, political vigilance is needed by all countries in East Asia and the region to prevent mistakes which are difficult to reverse.
Editorial of the Chinese edition of the Global Times Wednesday