What East Asia can learn from the crisis in Ukraine

The writer says every effort has to be made to prevent East Asia from being fragmented into blocs or becoming a chessboard of geopolitical rivalry.

Deng Xijun

Deng Xijun

The Jakarta Post


Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping during their meeting on the sidelines of a BRICS summit, in Brasilia, Brazil, Nov. 13, 2019. (Reuters/Sputnik/Ramil Sitdikov/Kremlin)

April 6, 2022

JAKARTA – It has been over a month since the conflict between Russia and Ukraine began. Deeply worried about the conflict, people have been asking: why is all of this happening anyway, and how can tragedy be avoided in East Asia?

Over three decades ago, the end of the Cold War brought sunshine back to the globe, East Asia included. Yet the United States, the winner, might have been overly obsessed with reaping the harvest since then. The five rounds of eastward expansion of US-led NATO brought the number of NATO members up to 30 from 16 and pushed its boundary 1,000 kilometers further eastward, just next to Russia’s doorstep. The root cause of the conflict was then planted.

What is going on between Russia and Ukraine today is the most serious crisis in Europe since the end of World War II. Since day one, China has been playing a constructive role to help ease tension, call for peaceful dialogue and delay the possible humanitarian crisis.

One day after crossfire, Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin had a phone conversation in which China proposed a peace talk as early as possible and won Russia’s assent.

In his phone calls with other concerned state leaders, President Xi made clear once again China’s position on the situation. China believes that the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries should be respected, the purposes and principles of the United Nations Charter should be observed, the legitimate security concerns of all states should be accommodated and all efforts toward the peaceful resolution of crisis should be supported.

With no selfish interest on the Ukraine issue, China upholds, as always, independence and justice. Being friends with both the peoples of Russia and Ukraine, China couldn’t wish more of an early and peaceful end to the conflict for them both. The Ukrainian people have our sympathy, whereas those who instigate the tragedy and fan the flame behind the scenes are the objects of our indignation.

As peace talk remains the only feasible way to avoid escalation, the international community has the responsibility to create favorable conditions and environment for negotiations and open up space for a political settlement. Unilateral sanctions, unjustified either on moral or legal grounds, would only make the tensions higher and global divisions deeper, let alone failing to address the root causes.

It would also be too much to ask a third country to side with one party or cut off its normal trade with Russia, because it would be the people who pay the price at the end of the day. Otherwise, the whole international community would be held hostage.

After decades of endeavors, the global economic landscape has become an integrated and interconnected whole that must be cherished dearly. It must not to be undermined, still less should it be politicized and even weaponized, which could lead to a devastating ripple effect on the global financial, trade, energy, technology, food, industrial and supply chains. Many people are right to be deeply concerned about the possible crushing of decades-long global economic cooperation, all overnight. And what is worse, it would take years or even decades to recover.

East Asia has important lessons to learn from what is going on in Ukraine. Peace, after all, should never be taken for granted and efforts must be made to safeguard it. Peace and prosperity in East Asia since the end of the Cold War would not be possible without such efforts of regional countries. And our joint endeavors must continue, if we would like what we enjoy today to be lasting.

What can be done? The key might lie in the correct understanding of security. No country should enjoy its own absolute security at the cost of the security of another country. Instead, security should be common, comprehensive, cooperative and sustainable, leaving no space for the Cold War mentality and giving every chance to multilateralism as well as consideration and accommodation of the legitimate security concerns of all states.

Over the past decade or so, the US policy on the region adjusted from “pivot to Asia” to “Rebalancing to Asia” and then to the “Indo-Pacific Strategy”. Yet they all point to maintaining hegemony by containing a rising China. The tactics are quite similar to NATO’s eastward expansion in Europe.

The US has also been the architect of bloc building in the region – for example, its “five-four-three-two formation”, referring to the Five Eyes Alliance, the Quad, the AUKUS and its bilateral military allies. These strategies severely threaten China’s sovereignty, security and development interests and distract regional countries from their counter-COVID-19 and economic recovery agenda. The latest Indo-Pacific strategy is as dangerous as NATO’s expansion in Europe, which, if allowed to go on unchecked, would ultimately push the Asia-Pacific over the edge of an abyss.

We regional countries have to stay sober minded, on high alert and in the meantime, protect regional peace and stability through both shared efforts and in an independent manner. The situation in Ukraine shall never be allowed in our region. We need to explore and set up a regional mechanism of security cooperation that ends conflict through negotiation, addresses disputes through dialogue and deepens mutual trust through cooperation.

Every effort has to be made to prevent East Asia from being fragmented into blocs or becoming a chessboard of geopolitical rivalry. And we must say no to the risk of becoming pawns of bloc confrontation.

A future of peace and stability in East Asia also depends on the sustained development of the region. For East Asia to stay on the right path forward, focus needs to be given to cooperation in fighting the pandemic, economic recovery, accelerated economic integration as well as better free trade areas and connectivity.

Going forward, China will continue to firmly support the ASEAN-centered regional cooperation architecture, firmly take ASEAN as priority in our neighborhood diplomacy and enhance cooperation on all fronts. China is also ready to implement the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with ASEAN under the Global Development Initiative, so as to narrow development gaps, deliver to the people and safeguard peace and prosperity in East Asia.

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