(MENAFN- Asia Times) The parting words of Xi Jinping to Vladimir Putin were both ominous and momentous.“A change is coming that we haven't seen in a hundred years, and we're driving this change together,”
china's leader told the russian president
on Wednesday as he ended his trip to Moscow.
In the West, the declarations of friendship provoked anxiety about a new anti-Western alliance, and what it might mean for the war in Ukraine.
Yet the consequences of Xi's visit and the burgeoning Chinese-Russian alliance will be felt first in Asia. In fact, a recalibration has already started.
The very same day that Xi landed in Moscow, two incidents occurred that offer a glimpse of what the future political alignments in Asia will look like.
The first was the arrival of japanese prime minister fumio kishida in kiev . The second was a message, issued the same day that Xi arrived in Moscow, to four Central Asian states, inviting them to the first beijing-central asian summit .
Together, they demonstrate how Asian countries are recalibrating relations, preparing not for a long war in Ukraine, but for what they fear could be a short peace in East Asia.
Kishida in Kiev
Within hours of Xi landing in Moscow, Kishida arrived in Ukraine. The symbolism was deliberate: Two of Asia's biggest economies firmly planting their flags on opposite sides of this European conflict. The Ukraine war is certainly not a global conflict, but it has affected the politics of countries all across the world.
Although Japan has historically taken its postwar
seriously, the war in Ukraine has shaken an already unsteady – and, many Japanese argue, outdated – policy. Tokyo's response has differed little from that of Western countries, as it has sanctioned Russian companies and sent surveillance drones to Kiev to use in the war.
Journalists have noted a litany of firsts: the first time Japan has assisted a country during an armed conflict; the first time since World War II that a Japanese leader has visited a country at war. But they add up to a strong sense that Japan is shedding its pacifist history, accelerated by the Ukraine war.
Kishida's visit came on the heels of a
summit in south korea , the first time a bilateral summit had been held by the two Northeast Asian countries in more than a decade. The extraordinary declarations of friendship – Kishida called it“a new chapter” – in some ways mirrored the Xi-Putin romance.
But it adds up to Japan appearing to be preparing for a new chapter in East Asia – one in which Japan no longer prevaricates about its friends, and draws them closer in the face of a new threat.
That new threat hardly needs to be described. For Japan, the war in Ukraine isn't merely a pressing conflict, it is a glimpse of a future. Just as Xi needs Russia to“win” so as to avoid Taiwan thinking it could possibly repel a Chinese military takeover, so Japan needs Russia to lose, so that China will not be tempted into military action in East Asia.
Kishida has said as much publicly,
telling a security summit
in June last year that“Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow.”
Other countries in Asia are also coming to a similar conclusion. Shift in Central Asia
The war in Ukraine has tested the traditionally close relationship between Moscow and the Central Asian countries, all former members of the Soviet Union.
First, there was collateral damage from the invasion – the
value of remittances
from Central Asian workers inside Russia has plunged. There are millions of such workers in Russia, and the economies of the five countries depend heavily on workers sending money home.
But the war has gradually pushed the region away from Moscow – not immediately, and without great fanfare, but gradually, Central Asian countries have become more receptive to advances from other countries, such as the United States, China and
No country better
the change in relationship than Kazakhstan, the richest of the five.
Mere weeks before Putin's invasion,
russian troops were airlifted into almaty , Kazakhstan's largest city, to help end widespread protests and allow President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev to regain control. A year later,
tokayev welcomed us secretary of state antony blinken
to the country for detailed talks, and gathered politicians from the rest of Central Asia too.
Part of the change is simply these states capitalizing on a rare moment of leverage over Russia. But part of it, just as with Japan, is anxiety at what their larger neighbors might do next. There are millions of ethnic Russians in Central Asian states, and it would be conceivable that Moscow may seek to bite off chunks of their territory. If that happened, there would be few to come to their assistance.
Taken together, a long-awaited rapprochement between Japan and South Korea, the remilitarization of Japan, and the drifting of Central Asia beyond Russia's orbit herald long-term changes in Asia.
Few of these changes have come about simply because of the Ukraine war, but the war has opened the minds of Asian politicians to possibilities they had long thought impossible – exactly as it has done to Western politicians. They have seen how European countries have been dragged into the Ukraine war, and feel sure they will not escape the slipstream of chaos should China seek to take back Taiwan.
That invasion won't happen this year, or perhaps even this decade. But the Ukraine war has focused minds in Asia on a very real possibility, one that a Russian victory will likely bring closer. The very geographical integrity of East Asia may rest on a war that is still very far away although its consequences are inching ever closer.
This article was provided by
syndication bureau , which holds copyright.
Faisal Al Yafai is currently writing a book on the
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and is a frequent commentator on international TV news networks. He has worked for news outlets such as The Guardian and the BBC, and reported on the
Europe, Asia and
Africa. Follow him on Twitter