5 Asian military hotspots and how they play into Biden’s visit

Hotspots such as Taiwan, North Korea, the South China Sea, the Indo-China border and the Kuril Islands have all seen a Ukrainian effect, as Russia’s war accelerates regional security concerns – while providing lessons that major Asian players assess daily.

This left other Pacific powers, especially Japan, suspicious.

Japanese officials have pointed out that 90% of their country’s energy needs are imported via water around Taiwan, linking Japan’s economic stability to Taiwan’s autonomy.

The United States has also pledged to provide self-defense for Taiwan, but not to defend it with American troops.

This is where lessons from Ukraine come in, both for the United States and its allies – and for China.

“Put simply, it will be extremely difficult for American leaders to convince China that they are willing to risk a war against Taiwan that could go nuclear,” Peter Harris, an associate professor of political science at Colorado State, wrote this week. University. for the Defense Priorities Task Force.

“This is especially true in light of President Biden’s unambiguous refusal to send US troops to Ukraine due to the imminent threat of nuclear war with Russia,” Harris wrote.

But, Harris argues, NATO allies and much of the rest of the world have backed Ukraine, through sanctions on Russia and weapons for Ukraine.

This could make China wary of any action on Taiwan for fear of actions regional nations might take against Beijing, he said.

“China should be in no doubt that Japan, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and others would be forced to rethink their national security strategies under the shadow of an expanded Chinese state and aggressive,” Harris wrote.

And that will be part of Biden’s mission over the next week – to unify the region around Taiwan to deter any Chinese belligerence.

North Korea

Kim Jong Un’s regime has staged a record number of missile tests this year, and there are indications it may be preparing to test a nuclear weapon for the first time since 2017.

The missile tests come after talks between North Korea and the United States broke down over Pyongyang’s nuclear program following failed summits between Kim and former US President Donald Trump.

“Some observers suggest North Korea is stepping up tests to get Washington’s attention and reinvigorate dialogue. There is more evidence that Pyongyang is focusing on improving military capabilities to deter, threaten and extort others country,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha. Seoul University.

It was a page from the Russian playbook before it finally invaded Ukraine, and provides a lesson for the Korean peninsula, Easley says.

“Russia’s aggression shows that the cost of war almost always outweighs the price of peace, not only because of the lives shattered and the resources expended, but also because leaders tend to overestimate their ability to achieve military and political goals while underestimating the long-term unintended consequences,” he says.

According to Easley, Biden can reduce the threat from North Korea by playing on the strength of American partnerships in the Pacific.

“Effective and plausible options for Seoul and Washington to bolster deterrence include restoring combined field exercises, better coordinating defense procurement, and regularizing trilateral security cooperation with Tokyo,” he said. -he declares.

The Kuril Islands

The Kuril Islands, called the Southern Kuril Islands by Russia and the Northern Territories by Japan, were captured by Soviet forces after Japan surrendered to the Allies in 1945.

The resulting disagreement over the rightful ownership of the islands soured relations between the two countries, contributing to their continued failure to sign a World War II peace treaty.

But the Russian invasion of Ukraine has raised tensions between Tokyo and Moscow to some of their highest levels since World War II. That’s because Japan has been full-throated in its condemnation of the invasion – largely toeing the Western line against Russia, including expelling Russian diplomats, imposing sanctions on Moscow and even donating supplies. to the Ukrainian army.

It comes after Russia has boosted its military profile in the Western Pacific, including testing missiles in waters between Japan and Russia and joining the Chinese navy in an exercise that circles much of the Japan.

“Given all of this, the perception of Japan’s threat to its northern flank has changed significantly,” said Robert Ward, Japan’s president at the International Institute for Security Studies.

And rising tensions in the north have created what Ward calls “an arc of risk” for Japan in the west, from the Kurils in the north, south to the North Korean missile threat and further south to to China, around Taiwan and around the Senkaku. / Diaoyu Islands, claimed by Beijing and Tokyo as sovereign territory.

This is a concern for Biden because, through a mutual defense treaty, the United States pledges to defend any part of Japanese sovereign territory. Any hesitation in these areas regarding its No. 1 ally would raise concerns about US commitments elsewhere in the world, including to NATO allies who are still worried about Russia’s next move in Europe.

The South China Sea

China’s claim to nearly all of the 1.3 million square kilometers of the South China Sea has been an ongoing source of tension between Washington and Beijing in recent years.

But the war in Ukraine, along with rising tensions around Taiwan, North Korea and the Kuril Islands, have turned the thermostat down a bit in the South China Sea.

Collin Koh, a researcher at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, notes that in 2022 the US Navy appears to have scaled back its freedom of navigation operations (FONOPS), in which US warships sail near disputed islands occupied by China. — with just one such operation in January.

“It appears the Biden administration could have chosen to move from the previous militarized approach on (the South China Sea) to a more geoeconomics-based approach,” Koh said.

He notes that a recent White House meeting with leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) resulted in economic, development and healthcare commitments, rather than military ones.

In fact, the closest thing to a security initiative was sending a US Coast Guard and training team to the area, Koh said.

But Russia’s military struggles in Ukraine also have lessons for China, Koh said.

Russia has not gained air superiority over Ukraine, and Koh said Beijing could easily face a similar problem trying to protect militarized islands in the Spratly Islands chain in the South China Sea. southern.

“The line of communication – air and sea – between coastal hubs along China’s southern mainland and these outposts would be too long and vulnerable to interdiction unless they were able to secure dominance. air and naval,” he said.

“Even if the Chinese might gain the upper hand by seizing some features (of the South China Sea), their long-term safe maintenance becomes uncertain,” Koh said.

India-China

The decades-long stalemate along the Line of Actual Control (LAC), the ill-defined border between India and China in the Himalayas, may be the most complex of military issues Biden faces on his trip. in Asia.

A bloody clash between Indian and Chinese troops on the LAC in 2020 brought India, which has long had Russia as its main arms supplier, closer to the United States.

India has also aligned itself with the United States, Japan and Australia in the Quad, an informal group of countries that many see as an effort to push back China’s influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

But New Delhi’s historically close ties with Moscow and the need to keep oil and gas imports from Russia – as well as military supply chains – intact have seen India refrain from sanctions against Russia. , which the other Quad members have been at the forefront of.

Harsh V. Pant, a professor at Kings College London and director of the Observer Research Foundation in New Delhi, notes two Ukrainian factors that may be keeping India moving towards the United States.

First, the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance provided by Washington and its allies helped Ukraine stop and now push Russia back into the battlefield.

India had a similar understanding with the United States to monitor and understand Chinese military capabilities and what happened in Ukraine will drive that effort forward, Pant said.

And second, Russia’s role as a supplier of about half of India’s military armament is in question.

“India will have to look very carefully at sourcing their equipment,” Pant said.

“If Russia is so involved in its own wars, where will maintenance and spare parts (for India) come from?”

Washington and its allies are the most likely suppliers of the weapons themselves, but are also helping to transfer technology for India to manufacture its own modern weaponry, Pant said.

And that would be a likely lead for a deal to come out of the Quad leaders’ meeting in Tokyo next week.

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