14.06.2022

Impacts of the Ukraine war on Southeast Asia

Charmaine Misalucha-Willougby answers questions about the larger implications of the war in Ukraine on the Asia-Pacific region.

The war in Ukraine precipitated by a Russian invasion came at a time of intensifying great power rivalries in the Asia-Pacific region and discussions around the continuation of the liberal world order. For Southeast Asia this puts into question the need to preserve a world that is founded on the idea of sovereign integrity of states and the value of non-interference in internal affairs.

We spoke with senior members of the FES Asia Strategic Foresight Group about the larger implications on what it means for the future global order, and in particular how it may play out and take form in the Asia-Pacific region.

Dr Charmaine Misalucha-Willougby, Associate Professor of International Studies at De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines, elaborates on the way the situation unfolds in the region, while also suggesting areas in which Europe can continue to work with partners in the region.  

How does the war in Ukraine impact the global order and how does that play out in the Asia-Pacific region?

The war in Ukraine is a direct challenge to the operating system that has been in existence since the end of the Second World War. The current world order is founded on the idea of the sovereign integrity of states, a concept derived from the Westphalian model, which acknowledges the centrality of the state and the value of non-interference in internal affairs. By invading Ukraine, Russia has violated the fundamental principle on which the liberal rules-based international order stands. At the same time, Russia’s move chips away at the notion of American hegemony and leadership, particularly in multilateral platforms.

Considering the war’s impact to the global order, there is no doubt that the Asia-Pacific will also bear the brunt of changing geopolitical dynamics that come with it. China’s tacit support of Russia has engendered concerns in America and the Asia-Pacific that China could undertake a similar action against Taiwan. At the same time, it casts a spotlight on dilemmas experienced by small and medium powers in Southeast Asia that are economically dependent on the rising power, that is China. However, the most defining impacts will be on global energy and supply chains, areas where we can expect developments to play out incrementally but with long-term consequences.

 

What elements of the liberal world order would be important to the region? What would they want to keep and what would they want to change?

Countries in the Indo-Pacific remain committed to the Westphalian notion of statehood where the state enjoys sovereign and territorial integrity, free from external interference in the running of its domestic affairs. This is especially true for members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), whose core principles rest on non-interference, consensus, and the peaceful settlement of disputes. ASEAN can continue to uphold their principles, for as long as the overarching framework on which its embedded practices is maintained and so long as a liberal rules-based international order is upheld. What needs to change in this vision, however, is the intensifying rivalry between the United States and China in that we need a de-escalation and a way for these two powers to work together and co-exist. Arguably, the future of the post-Second World War framework rests on the US-China bilateral relationship.

 

Relatedly, what are priority areas in which Asia and Europe can continue to work together as a way of sustaining the collaboration in the face and likelihood of the latter turning more to its near neighbourhood in the coming years? 

While great power competition continues unabated, it is business as usual in international relations in many parts of the world. Asia and Europe can continue to work together in areas that harness both regions’ strengths, especially on non-military cooperation. For example, Europe has expertise in the sustainable development of infrastructure which can be integrated into existing frameworks like the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). Another area of collaboration lies in combatting climate change and in identifying strategies toward greenhouse neutrality, a move that can be facilitated by strengthening efforts to bridge intra-regional and inter-regional connectivity.

The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of FES.

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