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What impact will the Ukraine-Russia war leave on Asia-Pacific?

PM Lee said the conflict has already “strained” US-China relations.

While Asia-Pacific may be far from Ukraine and Russia geographically, Singaporean PM  Lee Hsien Loong said the conflict between the two countries will leave an impact on the region at “many levels.”

In his Dialogue with the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Lee said the conflict has already affected the region in three areas.

“First of all, it damaged the international framework for law and order and peace between countries. It violates the UN Charter, it endangers the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, especially small ones,” Lee said.

“And if a principle is accepted, that crazy decisions and historical errors are the justification for invading somebody else, I think many of us are going to be feeling very insecure in the Asia Pacific, but also in the rest of the world,” he added.

The global system of multilateral working together has become “very difficult to work,” as well, according to Lee, adding that cooperation between countries has become a “win-lose” instead of a “win-win.”

“You want the other guy to be down, fix him, crash his economy. So how then do most of the countries, if possible, hang together and cooperate with one another and not fall into disorder, autarky or anarchy? That is a big worry for us in Singapore because we depend on globalisation to make a living,” he explained.

What happens in Ukraine also affects US-China relations in a “big” way, according to Lee, adding that the conflict has already “strained” the relations between the two giants.

“You hope that with contacts between President Biden and President Xi at the highest level, rational calculations will be made, and the relations will hold. In other words, not become worse than they already are. But you do not know,” he said.

“Despite the best efforts on both sides, and if relations between the US and China worsen, that has a bigger implication for the whole of Asia Pacific and the world,” he added.

The entire situation also presents China with “awkward questions,” said Lee when asked whether the Xi-led country has been “sobered” by war and if they indeed paid a political price for “closely associating” themselves with Russia.

Lee said China’s stance on the Ukraine situation “violates the principles which the Chinese hold very dearly – territorial integrity, and sovereignty and non-interference.”

Meanwhile, Lee said the conflict has left countries asking about who they can trust in terms of defence, who they can count on for help.

“I think calculations are going to be made. The framework in Asia Pacific is different from the framework in Europe,” he said.

Learning from the Ukraine situation, Lee said Asia-Pacific leaders should think “about the path into conflict and how it can be avoided.”

“What structures can you build; what processes; what engagements; what strategic accommodations can be made, in order to head off such a failure of deterrence and then you are into a defence situation,” he said.

 

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