Economic Statecraft
The East on Fire: Who Benefits From a War in Northeast Asia?

The process of creating a kind of “anti-China” on the basis of Taiwan issue, which has been carried out by Washington since the early 2000s and finally entrenched under the current democratic administration of Tsai Ing-wen, is alarming. The United States is actually implementing the “Ukrainian scenario”, promising security guarantees and military support, as well as drawing allies — Japan and some NATO countries — into a potential conflict zone, writes Andrey Gubin. 

There have been no active hostilities in Northeast Asia for more than 70 years. However, today the state of affairs in the region is complicated by the growing intensity of the complex confrontation between China and the United States, which also involves American allies in the region — Japan and the Republic of Korea. The development of an effective action plan for all players, including Russia, has been complicated by a sharp reduction in the forecast and a number of changes in the strategic situation.

No land, no water, no pity

None of the potential conflicts in Northeast Asia today can be called a territorial dispute. The capture and retention of a piece of land or water surface is hampered, first of all, by the inability to ensure decisive military superiority and achieve a clear victory.

Thus, Tokyo’s claims to the Lesser Kuril Chain (the Habomai group and Shikotan Island) and the two islands of the southern part of the Kuril Islands (Kunashir and Iturup), amid the current conditions of Russia’s refusal to negotiate on this issue and Japan’s transition to the category of “unfriendly countries” are absolutely unrealisable.

It is extremely problematic to imagine a successful Japanese landing operation against a nuclear power, although such proposals among hotheads do occur in the blogosphere and even in the expert community.

The Republic of Korea and the DPRK are likely to realise the impossibility of creating a unified Korean state in the foreseeable future. The peaceful path is blocked by the deliberate elimination of a stable channel of negotiations and too different visions of the principles of reunification. The military potentials of each of the parties are not sufficient for a confident defeat of the enemy. Seoul’s hopes for the collapse of the North Korean regime have failed to materialise, just as the ROK’s withdrawal from American influence has not taken place. The issue of the northern dividing line in the Yellow Sea in the context of existential intransigence is a formality and a tribute to tradition.

With separatist sentiments flourishing and Taipei’s current authorities’ policy of strengthening defensive capabilities, the peaceful reunification of mainland China and the island of Taiwan is an almost impossible task. The prospect of restoring the Republic of China with Nanjing as its capital looks like a total fantasy.

The dispute over the ownership of the Senkaku/Diaoyu Islands has lost its territorial character. For Beijing, the main thing is not the actual possession of the Diaoyu, but the difficulty of any actions by Tokyo that are contrary to the fundamental interests of the PRC, primarily of a military nature. Therefore, the development of this part of the East China Sea for Japan is extremely difficult due to the constant presence of Chinese warships and fishing vessels, as well as exercises and PLA patrol missions.

The territorial aspect (the islands of Dokdo/Takeshima) is present in Japanese-South Korean relations, but today it does not determine the nature of interaction and is recognised by the parties as frozen.

When diplomats become silent...

Virtually no pair of ties in Northeast Asia is implemented autonomously and according to its own logic. During the COVID-19 pandemic, the intensity of China’s exchanges with Japan and the Republic of Korea, as well as across the Taiwan Strait, significantly decreased. As a result, it became possible for Washington to pursue a purposeful policy aimed at alienating the parties to cooperation from each other, interrupting established ties and cultivating mutual hostility.

Beijing’s relations with Seoul and Tokyo are gradually losing their independence, retaining limited autonomy only in trade and economic aspects due to the significant volume of trade amounting to 350 billion dollars with each country.

Russia’s interaction with the Republic of Korea and Japan is almost completely subordinated to the logic of confrontation with the collective West. Limited opportunities for dialogue still exist in the area of small and medium-sized businesses and humanitarian ties, but hardly for long. In fact, the independent development of dialogue, in particular, for Moscow with Seoul and Tokyo, is impossible outside the context of Russian-American relations. In particular, changes are visible in the nature and intensity of the work of the Japanese and South Korean missions in Russia.

The current Japanese-South Korean rapprochement is forced due to Washington’s policy of rallying its own allies in order to counter China, Russia and North Korea. As a result, the elimination of political independence of such significant countries in the region as Japan and the Republic of Korea has led to a significant reduction in the negotiating field, loss of trust and difficulty in the exchange of views and intentions.

A new feature has been the increase in the activity of America’s NATO European allies in Asia, including the establishment of an office in Japan, an increase in the number of patrol missions and joint exercises, discussions on the deployment of elements of the armed forces, mutual logistical support, and the exchange of intelligence information.
Asia and Eurasia
Russia and Asia: The Paradoxes of a New Reality
Anna Bessmertnaya, Alexei Bezborodov, Timofei Bordachev, Ilya Dyachkov, Vasily Kashin, Olga Kharina, Ekaterina Koldunova, Alexei Kupriyanov, Fyodor Lukyanov, Gleb Makarevich, Irina Prokofyeva, Sergei Rabei, Dmitry Streltsov, Viktor Sumsky, Mikhail Terskikh, Alexey Zakharov, Ivan Zuenko
Back in October 2017, which may seem today a bygone era, a group of Valdai Club experts teamed up with a group of researchers to release a report titled A Look into the Future: Scenarios for Asia and Russia in Asia in the Next 20 Years.

Fifty shades of containment

At Washington’s initiative, all issues of relations with the DPRK were linked exclusively to Pyongyang’s nuclear missile programme. The proposals of Russia and China to separate the military component from the economic and humanitarian aspects of cooperation, and hence the gradual easing of the UN Security Council sanctions regime, remained ignored. The American administration, without a shadow of embarrassment, used the North Korean threat factor as a rationale for increasing its own military activity and changing the nature of its presence, including the promising deployment of INF and hypersonic weapons in the Pacific Ocean. The US, Japan, and ROK Camp David Declaration in August 2023 about the possibility of dialogue with Pyongyang without preconditions was made more for self-justification than in order to achieve a real detente.

Instilling a sense of constant danger at the level of leaders and ordinary people has allowed the United States to get Tokyo, Seoul and Taipei to take a course towards a significant increase in their own military capabilities. Priority is given to the development of ground, sea and air-based strike missile weapons, as well as anti-missile defence systems. At the same time, for example, the Japanese have already documented the right to launch pre-emptive strikes in the event of a threat.

The practical implementation of discussions in Japan, the Republic of Korea and the island of Taiwan about the prospects for developing their own nuclear weapons or establishing joint nuclear missions with the United States is extremely dangerous for stability in the region. There is a possibility of further implementation of the Australian experience in acquiring multi-purpose nuclear submarines, which will adversely affect the nuclear non-proliferation regime.

Destruction in the heads

The historical experience and features of statehood in 20th century in Japan, the Republic of Korea and the island of Taiwan determined the powerful influence of nationalist ideas on political circles as well as the broad masses of people.

In the media and the blogosphere, the responsibility for all the economic and social difficulties that affect the life and prosperity of ordinary people rests solely with China, Russia and the DPRK. At the same time, access to other information, as a rule, is blocked, and the possibilities for public discussions, scientific and expert exchanges are seriously limited. The mobilisation of large sections of the population under explicitly nationalist slogans allows governments to redistribute funds away from socially significant areas to meet the needs of defence, intelligence and subversive activities. Examples of clichés that have already been introduced at the cognitive level are the expressions “Chinese virus” and “Putin’s invasion”, which are offered by ideologists as universal causes of all the problems of mankind.

The process of creating a kind of “anti-China” on the basis of Taiwan issue, which has been carried out by Washington since the early 2000s and finally entrenched under the current democratic administration of Tsai Ing-wen, is alarming. The United States is actually implementing the “Ukrainian scenario”, promising security guarantees and military support, as well as drawing allies — Japan and some NATO countries — into a potential conflict zone. The ideas of “speciality” and a new identity are actively spread through the American Institute and NGOs.

Japan actively uses this narrative in the diplomatic line and trade and economic cooperation to attract partners. True, historical experience adamantly reminds us that Tokyo’s confidence in its own exclusivity has always led to disaster.

Sovereignty default

At the moment, there are no threats to the territorial integrity and state sovereignty of Russia from Northeast Asia. Or the author’s optimism is due to lack of awareness.

Undoubtedly, in the context of claims to a part of the Kuril Islands, Japan’s military build-up, accompanied by anti-Russian rhetoric in speeches and documents, seems potentially dangerous. Tokyo gaining strike missile weapons and further improvement of the Self-Defence Forces will prompt Russia to attract additional resources to protect state interests in the Far East. Regularly conducted joint patrol missions and exercises with the PLA have proven to be an extremely promising tool, especially given Beijing’s new policy of supporting Moscow’s position on the Kuril islands.

The strengthening of the military potential of the Republic of Korea and Taiwan does not directly threaten the national security of Russia, since Seoul and Taipei make no claims against our country. A conflict in any form on the Korean Peninsula or in the Taiwan Strait does not provide for Russian military intervention due to the absence of formal commitments to help China or North Korea, but it will require enhanced measures to protect Russia’s own borders.

Moreover, the full involvement of China in clashes with any adversary will create a situation of uncertainty for Russia and the need to choose the most rational course of action.

US actions in Northeast Asia to deploy elements of non-strategic nuclear forces and missile defence using the potentials and territories of foreign partners pose a danger to the global strategic deterrence system. Russia and China are forced to take this aspect into account in military construction and defensive measures.

Most definitely, the ordinary people of Japan, the Republic of Korea and the island of Taiwan do not want war of any kind. Beijing and Pyongyang, on the other hand, accurately and fairly define the conditions for the use of force. Nevertheless, it is the United States, through its influence on its partners, that is testing patience and “red lines.” Whether Washington provides real assistance or traditionally prefers to confine itself to a proxy strategy is a rather rhetorical question.

It is imperative for Moscow and Beijing to develop a response to Washington’s privatisation of the entire security agenda in Northeast Asia, and the elimination of the independent negotiations with Japan and the Republic of Korea on political and military issues. It is in the interests of Seoul and Tokyo to overcome limitations on their sovereignty by the senior ally for the benefit of the entire region and to increase the level of their own security through confidence-building measures with their closest neighbours: Russia, China and North Korea.
Economic Statecraft
Reincarnation of the USA-Japan-South Korea Triangle
Alexander Vorontsov
Washington continues with indomitable energy to build a new global architecture of military-political alliances which are under its direct control, along the perimeter of the borders of Russia and China, uniting the security infrastructure from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean into a self-contained power infrastructure, writes Alexander Vorontsov.
Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.