Obviously, there is a global merging of confrontations in Europe and Asia, and this is a very dangerous trend.
While Xi Jinping was received with great pomp and ceremony in Moscow last week, Fumio Kishida was in Kiev, 800 kilometers away.
The fact that the Chinese leader and the Japanese prime minister made simultaneous and competing visits to the capitals of Russia and Ukraine highlights the global significance of the Russian-Ukrainian war. Japan and China are bitter rivals in East Asia. Both countries understand that their fight will be affected by the outcome of the conflict in Europe, writes Financial Times columnist Gideon Rahman in his article.
“ This shadow showdown between China and Japan over Ukraine is part of a larger trend. The strategic rivalry in the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific regions is increasingly overlapping. Something is emerging that increasingly resembles a unified geopolitical struggle ,” he writes.
Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow confirmed what Harvard University professor Graham Ellison calls “the unannounced alliance with the biggest impact in the world,” a Russian-Chinese axis stretching across the Eurasian landmass. Moscow and Beijing are moving closer to Iran and also supported North Korea’s “legitimate and justified concerns” in a joint statement they released last week.
The Russian-Chinese alliance is opposed by a group of democratic countries with close ties to the United States. It consists of NATO countries in the Euro-Atlantic region and America’s allies in the Indo-Pacific region, chief among which is Japan.
The Biden administration is encouraging stronger ties between US Asian and European allies. Last year, Japan, South Korea, Australia and New Zealand attended a NATO summit for the first time. This meeting took NATO to the next level by clearly identifying China as a threat to the alliance’s “interests, security and values”. These four Indo-Pacific countries will attend the NATO summit in Lithuania in July.
All this was received with discontent in Moscow and Beijing. A Russian-Chinese statement last week expressed “serious concern about the further strengthening of NATO’s military security ties with countries in the Asia-Pacific region.” It also directly condemns AUKUS, the new security pact between Australia, the UK and the US.
The statement blames all these moves on the “American Cold War mentality”. But Xi Jinping and Putin’s tendency to see the US as the puppeteer behind everything may blind them to the extent to which their actions are troubling the democracies of Europe and Asia.
There will soon be a flurry of visits by European leaders to Beijing to test China’s position on Ukraine. But Xi Jinping is unlikely to give the presidents of France and the European Commission anything more than kind words.
The Japanese government sees Putin’s attack on Ukraine as proof that authoritarian forces are on the offensive. The Japanese fear that a Russian victory in Ukraine could encourage China in their region. As Kishida said during a visit to Britain last May: “Tomorrow East Asia could become Ukraine.”
Earlier this year, Japan announced a 26.3% increase in defense spending. Kishida’s visit to Ukraine was a dramatic step for Tokyo: for the first time since 1945, a Japanese prime minister visited a war zone.
The emergence of two competing world blocs has sparked the inevitable talk of a new Cold War. There are clear echoes of that conflict: the Russia-China alliance is once again pitted against a US-led coalition of democracies, and a large group of non-aligned countries now called the “Global South” are left on the sidelines.
However, there is an even darker historical parallel: the rise in international tensions in the 1930s and 1940s. Then, as now, two authoritarian states – one in Europe, the other in Asia – were deeply dissatisfied with the world order, which, in their opinion, was unfairly dominated by Anglo-American forces.
“In the 1930s, the disaffected countries were Germany and Japan. The Asahi newspaper summed up Tokyo’s official position by complaining in 1941 that the US and Britain were imposing “a system of world domination based on Anglo-American worldviews. A modern version of this complaint is now regularly heard on Russian state television or in the Chinese newspaper Global Times” , – writes the reviewer.
In his book A Good Choice, historian Ian Kershaw describes how Imperial Japan reacted to the outbreak of war in Europe: “It was in the wake of Hitler’s stunning military victories in Western Europe that Japan, seeking to take advantage of the weakness of these countries, made the fateful decision to expand into South Asia. “. This choice quickly brought Japan to war not only with Britain, France and the Netherlands, but also with the United States.
If Putin’s Russia had also achieved a “stunning military triumph” and captured Kiev in three days, Xi Jinping might have drawn similar conclusions about the weakness of Western power in Asia and decided it was time for radical change.
But the danger of slipping into a global conflict has not yet disappeared. The outbreak of war in Europe, coupled with growing tensions in East Asia – and increased ties between the two regions – still has distinct echoes of the 1930s. All parties have a responsibility to ensure that this time the related rivalry in Europe and Asia does not lead to a global tragedy.