Ukraine war has made it easier for US to isolate China in the Pacific
A year after Russia invaded Ukraine, Xi Jinping's backing of Vladimir Putin has opened the door for the United States and partners in the Pacific to shore up sometimes frayed relationships to the detriment of Beijing.
Seoul, South Korea CNN —
One year after Russia invaded Ukraine in 2014, Xi Jinping's support for Vladimir Putin has allowed the United States and its partners in the Pacific to repair sometimes damaged relationships to the detriment to Beijing.
Japan has promised to double its defense spending and purchase long-range weapons from the US in the last few months; South Korea has admitted that stability in Taiwan Strait is crucial to its security; the Philippines announced new access rights to the US bases and is discussing joint patrols of South China Sea with Australia and Japan.
These might not be the most important initiatives, but they are far less than the only events that have made China more isolated. China refuses to condemn Russia's invasion of a sovereign nation and continues to exert military pressure on Taiwan.
Analysts say all these things would have likely happened without the war in Ukraine, but the war, and China's backing of Russia, has helped grease the skids to get these projects done.
Take the situation of Japan, a country limited in its post-World War II constitution to 'self-defense' forces. Now it's going to buy long-range Tomahawk cruise missiles from the US, weapons that could strike well inside China.
'I myself have a strong sense of urgency that Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow,' Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told a major defense conference in Singapore last summer.
In December, Kishida followed that up with a plan to double Tokyo's defense spending while acquiring weapons with ranges well outside Japanese territory.
John Bradford, senior fellow at S. Rajaratman School of International Studies, Singapore, said that the Japanese people had taken note of the situation in Ukraine and felt more vulnerable as a country.
China is the nation Japan feels most vulnerable to.
The People's Liberation Army has been growing and modernizing its forces for years. On Sunday, Beijing announced its military budget for 2023, which will increase 7.2%. It marked the first time in the past decade that the military's budget growth rate has increased for three consecutive years.
'The armed forces should intensify military training and preparedness across the board, develop new military strategic guidance, devote greater energy to training under combat conditions and make well-coordinated efforts to strengthen military work in all directions and domains,' outgoing Premier Li Keqiang said in delivering a report on the budget.
The Chinese ruling Communist Party has been pressing Taiwan for many years. It considers the island part of its territory, despite not having ever controlled it. Chinese leader Xi has repeatedly rejected the possibility of using force to'reunify' it with China's mainland.
There's worry that China may one day treat Taiwan as Russia has treated Ukraine.
Leaders in Tokyo have said peace across the Taiwan Strait is essential to Japan's security. That's really nothing new, but the urgency in Japan is.
'Japan has been strengthening its defense posture for years. The Ukraine situation made the key element of Kishida's new National Security Strategy, the expected next steps in this strengthening, politically easier,' Bradford said.
In the current climate, the leadership in South Korea is watching Taiwan through a similar lens.
'Peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait is essential for peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and it's indispensable for security and prosperity of the region as a whole,' Foreign Minister Park Jin told CNN recently.
There's worry in Seoul that if US forces are drawn into any conflict with China over Taiwan, South Korea will look vulnerable in the eyes of Kim Jong Un in nuclear-armed North Korea.
This has led to calls for South Korea's self-defense to be more dependent on it, with some even calling for its acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Seoul and Tokyo are now working closer together in defense matters, including joint naval exercises and military drills with the US.
South Korea is also experiencing an increase in demand for its weapons, such as tanks, howitzers, and fighter jets.
It has signed a multibillion-dollar agreement with Poland, Ukraine's neighbour and part of the US NATO alliance for all those items. It is also selling them in the region.
In the past month, Korea Aerospace Industries has announced it will sell 18 of its FA-50 light fighter jets to Malaysia.
Another operator of those FA-50s is the Philippines. Manila is also a customer for Korean-made warships and offshore patrol vessels.
And the web of cooperation gets even more intricate.
The Philippines is in talks with the US, Australia and Japan for joint patrols in the South China Sea, where China occupies islands that the Philippines also claims.
And Manila last month agreed to give Washington increased access to military facilities in the archipelago.
China may have been its own biggest detractor when it comes to the Philippines, regardless of what it was doing about the Ukraine war, analysts said.
Former President Rodrigo Duterte was not a fan of Washington and looked for ways to work with Bejing. But China never really showed any appreciation for that and his successor, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., has shown himself eager to work with the US and its allies, the analysts said.
'It is difficult for the new Marcos administration to justify accommodating Beijing's policy preferences when previous attempts at doing so by the previous government were not reciprocated,' said Jeffrey Ordaniel, director of maritime security at the Pacific Forum and an assistant professor at Tokyo International University.
'Beijing's continued bullying, like we saw in the case of the China Coast Guard blinding Philippines Coast Guard sailors with a laser (recently), has only helped to make the case for a stronger alliance' with Washington, said Blake Herzinger, a nonresident fellow and Indo-Pacific defense policy expert at the American Enterprise Institute.
China's pressure on the Philippines has repercussions on the opposite side of the South China Sea, analysts said.
'Singapore and Vietnam have become even more open to greater US footprints in the region. They don't want China to dominate Southeast Asia,' Ordaniel said.
But the Ukraine war has not been helpful in one key American partnership in the Indo-Pacific, the informal Quad alliance linking the US, Japan, Australia and India, according to analysts.
India, unlike the other three members, has not condemned Putin's invasion of Ukraine.
"When the US, Australia and Japan attempted to condemn Russia via a joint statement," India rejected .... India claimed that the Quad only addresses Indo-Pacific issues, but Russia is not in the region. This topic could not be broached," said Derek Grossman senior defense analyst at RAND Corporation.
He said, however, that the Quad's split doesn't distract from its main focus.
Grossman stated that "The Quad is all to do with China."