Asia and Eurasia
The Development Dynamics of the Asia-Pacific Region Amid the Conditions of the Crumbling World Order

The demolition, restructuring or crumbling of the world order, which was first discussed in earnest in the wake of the confrontation between the West and Russia, has yet to hit the Asia-Pacific. So far the events taking place in Europe affect the region only tangentially, writes Yana Leksyutina, professor at the Department of American Studies at the Faculty of International Relations at St. Petersburg University, for the 13th Asian conference of the Valdai Discussion Club.

The geopolitical tsunami that emerged in late February this year in Europe has had a devastating effect on the international system and the world order in Europe. But in the Asia-Pacific, due to its geographical remoteness, the geopolitical tsunami has so far manifested itself only as small ripples in the regional space.

The processes launched by the current military-political conflict in Europe and the confrontation between the West and Russia have not yet had a fundamental impact on the Asia-Pacific, they haven’t led to a breakdown of the regional order. At the present stage, processes continue to develop in the region. The impetus for this was largely given by the course initiated by then-US President Obama in 2009 for the “rebalancing” of the United States to Asia as Washington’s reaction to the rise of China. The US military and political presence in the region continues to expand, the arms race and the increase in defence spending of the countries of the region are still taking place, and the rivalry between the US and China for the priority of the regional economic integration model, characteristic of the Obama presidency (TPP vs RCEP), is being supplanted by a competition for which model offers the region the most economic and technological interconnectedness.

The main, although not the only, factors influencing the development of regional processes are the rise of China, the growing rivalry and conflict between the US and China, and the American policy of containing China. The policy of containing China’s regional aspirations began to be applied by Washington under Obama in 2009. It was intensified under Trump, when a trade and technology war against China was initiated in 2018. Under Biden, a course is being pursued to strengthen Washington’s allied relations and partnerships with the Asia-Pacific countries, as well as the creation and strengthening of minilateral mechanisms to contain China, such as AUKUS or QUAD. Washington’s desire to promote its own model of economic and technological regional interconnectedness in the Asia-Pacific in order to restore US economic leadership and at the same time contain China is evidenced by the launching of an initiative in May this year to create the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

This group of factors is by no means the only one that sets the regional dynamics. For example, in the sphere of security, the development of the region is greatly influenced by the activities of North Korea in the development of its nuclear missile program. Since January this year alone, North Korea has launched at least 34 ballistic missiles. Such activity in North Korea has prompted fears on the part of Japan, the United States and South Korea, giving these countries arguments in favour of justifying their increase in defence spending, conducting large-scale military exercises in the region, and raising the issue of increasing the number of American THAAD systems deployed there. In particular, in late August 2022, after a 4-year break that followed the first Trump summit with Kim Jong-un — the Ulchi Freedom Shield joint military exercises of the United States and South Korea resumed. From Seoul, statements began to be heard about the possibility of expanding the deployment of American THAAD systems in South Korea and revising its policy towards China if it does not begin to exert complex pressure on North Korea.

Asia and Eurasia
Globalisation in Asia and the Lingering Conflicts
Pankaj Kumar Jha
Russia’s role in parts of East Asia, Southeast Asia and Oceania needs to be reconfigured, as it has the potential to be a critical stakeholder, writes Pankaj Kumar Jha, Professor and Director of the Centre for Security Studies, O P Jindal Global University. This article was prepared for the Valdai Club’s 13th Asian Conference.

In general, at the moment there is no open confrontation in the region similar to the one observed in Europe, but there are numerous unresolved territorial disputes that may make themselves felt at any moment. There are no dividing lines between states in the region, but there are growing fears between individual countries regarding each other’s intentions. This has compelled countries to work out their strategic national planning for worst-case scenarios and take appropriate preventive or protective actions. This encourages countries, contrary to objective economic interests, to break traditional regional value chains and create new ones, often bypassing China; decoupling while focusing on technological, economic or resource self-sufficiency. Such measures contradict economic feasibility and commercial interests, but are justified in terms of hedging potential risks and threats to national security.

In international trade, the countries of the region continue to focus on efforts to ensure the sustainability of supply chains. To this end, countries are taking unilateral measures aimed at strengthening their own self-sufficiency in critical areas (this is reflected in national economic development plans), as well as creating closed multilateral structures consisting of countries between which there is a high level of strategic mutual trust. For example, in 2021 Australia, Japan and India launched the Supply Chain Resilience Initiative. In July of this year, Washington hosted the Supply Chain Ministerial Forum with 18 countries including Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, South Korea and Singapore.

Finally, when analysing regional dynamics, one cannot ignore the Taiwan problem, which is already clearly ceasing to be a purely internal affair of the PRC and is no longer an issue that is exclusively on the agenda of US-China relations. The Taiwan problem is rapidly internationalising. Provisions about the importance of maintaining peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait in the past two years have begun to appear in statements adopted by the G7 summits, various meetings of the US president with American allies, and even during meetings without the participation of Washington — for example, following the Japan-Australia and EU-Japan talks. Three years ago, the appearance of such provisions in the statements of European states was difficult to imagine.

In this regard, it is important to note the relatively new dynamics in the development of the situation in the Asia-Pacific— this is the increasing involvement of non-regional players in the affairs of the region. This finds its manifestation both in the economic and in the military-political spheres. But if the growing activity of extra-regional partners in the economic sphere in the Asia-Pacific opens up new opportunities for regional development, then the strengthening of their military-political involvement is not always constructive and hardly contributes to the stability of the region. It is unlikely that the increased flow of parliamentary delegations from Europe to Taiwan can be considered a force which promotes the stabilisation of the region. The growing activity of warships from the European countries and Canada in the disputed waters of the South China Sea and their passage through the Taiwan Strait have turned up the heat. If earlier this kind of activity was characteristic mainly of Washington, at the present stage an increasing number of American non-regional allies are reproducing American patterns of behaviour in the Asia-Pacific.

In this regard, the question arises — can the region, in contrast to what is happening now in Europe, be an example of cooperation without dividing lines? Yes, it can, but only on the condition that such dividing lines are not drawn by non-regional players and, above all, by Washington. As responses to Russia’s special military operation have shown, some Asian countries are much more Washington-centric than we thought before 2022. This Washington-centricity will and is already manifesting itself in the development of Asia-Pacific policy towards China. Now we can talk about the formation of a pro-American bloc in the Asia-Pacific, which has an anti-Chinese orientation and consists of Australia, New Zealand, Taiwan and Japan, with the prospect of South Korea joining it. The main intrigue now is whether other countries in the Asia-Pacific, in the face of growing US-Chinese rivalry, are able to maintain their foreign policy autonomy from Washington. So far, one thing is clear — the Asia-Pacific countries will strive to preserve their foreign policy autonomy, non-alignment with one or another bloc and military-political groupings. However, their ability to maintain the position of an outside observer will depend on the degree of pressure on them from the United States.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.