February 28, 2022
SINGAPORE – Disbelief was the general reaction in Asia to the Russian invasion of Ukraine and many countries scrambled to try and repatriate their people from the conflict area.
There were also concerns over spiralling oil prices, volatility in markets, cyber security attacks and the likely impact of the sanctions unleashed by the United States, Japan and European countries on supply chains.
Policymakers and observers in a few key Asian economies were also pondering on the best way forward, given their interest in maintaining relations with both the US and Russia.
While Asian markets rebounded on Friday, the second day of the invasion, investors in the region were reaching out to gold, given the preference for the yellow metal in many parts of this region.
“We are certainly taken aback by what transpired on Thursday; that in this day and age, the deployment of military power to occupy the territory of another nation continues to be a fact of life in the 21st century,” Indonesia’s leading English language title The Jakarta Post wrote in an editorial.
Russia’s “outrageous act violates international law” and “signals the destruction of the international order after World War II”, said The Japan News, the English daily published by The Yomiuri Shimbun.
The Ukraine crisis has been much more in the limelight in East Asia – unlike elsewhere in the region – with the three leading economies – China, Japan and South Korea – being big customers of Russian oil, gas and coal. But differences in sentiment were apparent.
China’s tacit support for Russia’s security concerns contrasted with the sense of heightened concern in Japan and South Korea, especially over escalating fuel prices, the possibility of cyber attacks and managing relations with the US.
China Daily, which has been carrying commentaries aligned with Beijing’s interests, led coverage of the issue on the mainland with State Councillor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s conversation with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, an issue of much interest.
China Daily said Mr Wang maintained that China respects the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, although it also understood Moscow’s “reasonable security concerns”.
At a press briefing on the discussions, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry refuted Washington’s suggestion that Moscow opted for the military option only because it had gained China’s support.
The two leading presidential candidates in South Korea, where elections are due to take place next month, also weighed in on the issue.
Mr Lee Jae-myung of the ruling Democratic Party of Korea drew attention to the economic implications of a war, with oil prices rising and the sanctions imposed by the Biden administration.
The Korea Herald reported on Thursday that companies such as Samsung Electronics and SK Hynix might suffer “collateral damage”, as the sanctions might prevent them from selling products such as telecommunications equipment, lasers, sensors and chips to Russia.
Mr Yoon Suk-yeol from the main opposition People Power Party, for his part, said that the Ukraine crisis showed that the end of a war did not always mean the end of conflict in what appeared to be a swipe at President Moon Jae-in’s efforts to build bridges with North Korea.
Korea Herald, meanwhile, reminded the country of the importance of keeping Seoul’s alliance with the US “solid”, especially given the possibility of North Korea “escalating provocations to make the most of the New Cold War confrontation”.
Elsewhere, most of South-east Asia – which has been pre-occupied with figuring a way out of the political discord in Myanmar – stepped up coverage of the war in Ukraine. There was a lot of concern centred around the repatriation of citizens, with hundreds of Filipinos, Malaysians and Thais working in the country.
Focus in South Asia was on Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan’s decision to visit Moscow even as Russian troops were in Ukraine.
The visit is significant for India which is wary of growing ties between Islamabad and Moscow at a time when its relations with China have been strained.
New Delhi has also been striving to keep the balance between its ties with the US as a member of the recently set up Quadrilateral Security Dialogue (Quad) and its several decades long relationship with Russia, a source for much of its military hardware.
Some in Asia were also wary about the future of peace and security in the region.
“With (Russian President Vladimir) Putin already securing an alliance with China, we can expect tensions to also reach the Indo-Pacific region soon,” said the Jakarta Post.
“None of this would benefit everyone, especially with the more pressing problems of dealing with the pandemic, mitigating climate change and generating economic growth post-Covid-19”, it noted.
The writer is editor & director of Asia News Network.