A year after Russia invaded Ukraine, Xi Jinping’s support for Vladimir Putin has allowed the US and Pacific partners to shore up occasionally frayed relationships, to the expense of Beijing.
Japan has pledged to double defense spending and acquire long-range weapons from the US in the last few months alone; South Korea has acknowledged that stability in the Taiwan Strait is critical to its security; and the Philippines has announced new US base access rights and is discussing joint patrols of the South China Sea with Australia, Japan, and the US.
These are the most visible initiatives, but they are far from the only ones that have left China increasingly isolated in its own backyard, as it refuses to denounce Russia’s invasion of a sovereign country while maintaining military pressure on the self-ruled island of Taiwan.
Experts believe that all of these things would have occurred regardless of the Ukraine conflict, but that the conflict, as well as China’s support for Russia, has aided in getting these projects completed.
Consider Japan, a country whose post-World War II constitution limits it to “self-defense” military. It is now planning to purchase long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles from the United States, weapons capable of striking deep within China.
“I have a real feeling of urgency because Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said last summer at a major defence conference in Singapore.
Kishida followed that up in December with a pledge to quadruple Tokyo’s defence budget while obtaining weapons with ranges well beyond Japanese territory.
China is the country that Japan is most concerned about.
For many years, the People’s Liberation Army has been expanding and modernising its forces. China unveiled its military budget for 2023 on Sunday, which will increase by 7.2%. That was the first time in a decade that the military’s budget growth rate increased for three years in a row.
For years, China’s ruling Communist Party has exerted pressure on Taiwan. Despite never having controlled the island, China regards it as part of its territory, and Chinese leader Xi has repeatedly refused to rule out the use of force in “reunifying” it with the Chinese mainland.
There is concern that China would one day treat Taiwan in the same way that Russia has treated Ukraine.
Tokyo leaders have stated that peace across the Taiwan Strait is critical to Japan’s security.
Japan has strengthened its defences for years. The Ukraine situation made the key element of Kishida’s new National Security Strategy, the anticipated next steps in this strengthening, more politically feasible,” Bradford said.
In the current climate, South Korean leaders are viewing Taiwan through a similar lens.
Stability and peace on the Korean Peninsula, as well as security and prosperity in the area, need that “in the Taiwan Strait.”
Seoul is concerned that if US forces are drawn into a conflict with China over Taiwan, South Korea will appear vulnerable in the eyes of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
As a result, some have called for South Korea to rely more on self-defense, including the acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Meanwhile, Seoul and Tokyo are cooperating more closely on defence issues, including joint naval exercises with the United States.
South Korea is also seeing an increase in demand for its armaments, such as tanks, howitzers, and fighter jets.
For all of these items, it struck a multibillion-dollar agreement with Poland, Ukraine’s western border and a member of the US-led NATO alliance. It also sells them throughout the surrounding area.
Korea Aerospace Industries recently announced the sale of 18 FA-50 light fighter jets to Malaysia.
The Philippines is another operator of those FA-50s. Manila frequently buys Korean-made battleships and offshore patrol vessels.
And the web of collaboration becomes much more complicated.
The Philippines is negotiating joint patrols in the South China Sea with the United States, Australia, and Japan, where China occupies islands that the Philippines also claims.
Last month, Manila agreed to grant Washington greater access to military bases throughout the archipelago.
Analysts believe China was its own worst enemy when it came to the Philippines, regardless of what it was doing about the Ukraine conflict.
Former President Rodrigo Duterte disliked Washington and sought ways to collaborate with Beijing. But China never really appreciated it, and his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has shown himself keen to engage with the US and its allies, according to observers.
Jeffrey Ordaniel, Pacific Forum director of marine security and assistant professor at Tokyo International University, said, “It is difficult for the new Marcos administration to justify accepting Beijing’s policy preferences when earlier attempts by the previous government were not reciprocated.”
“Beijing’s ongoing intimidation, as we saw recently with the China Coast Guard blinding Philippines Coast Guard sailors with a laser,” said Blake Herzinger, a nonresident fellow and Indo-Pacific defence policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
Analysts believe China’s pressure on the Philippines has ramifications on the other side of the South China Sea.
Singapore and Vietnam are now more open to US expansion. “They don’t want China to rule Southeast Asia,” Ordaniel explained.
Analysts say the Ukraine conflict hasn’t helped one crucial American connection in the Indo-Pacific, the informal Quad alliance combining the US, Japan, Australia, and India.