Swift Reaction from Asia over Russian Attack on Ukraine

A wave of sanctions . . . 

Explosions heard across Ukraine this morning signalled the beginning of a “special military operation” ordered by Russian President Vladimir Putin. Ukraine’s Minister of Foreign Affairs has called the action a “full-scale invasion.” Reactions from the international community were swift, including from the Asia Pacific. Japan is discussing additional economic sanctions in addition to those it announced yesterday against Russia and breakaway eastern Ukrainian regions Donetsk and Luhansk. Japanese sanctions so far include a suspension of visa issuance, freezing of assets, and a ban on the sale of Russian sovereign debt in Japan. Similarly, Australia has expanded the sanctions it initially announced yesterday to cover an additional 25 individuals from Russia’s national security council. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has promised “further waves of sanctions.” South Korea, previously wary of wading in, indicated a shift in stance today, with President Moon Jae-in saying that Seoul would join international sanctions against Russia.

Will sanctions have an impact?

Despite the sanctions frenzy in Asia, it is unlikely economic measures will have a significant impact and appear largely symbolic. For example, experts have debated how much or even whether Russian debt is issued in Japan. The visa ban is also mostly moot as Japan is still not issuing visas to foreigners due to the pandemic. Japan, which relies on Russia for energy imports, has long feared pushing Russia closer to China, given its regional security concerns involving the latter. Australia’s sanctions are also relatively insignificant as there is little trade volume between the two countries.

China, Russia attempt balancing act . . .

China has so far been measured in its response. Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying noted today that “China did not wish to see what happened in Ukraine.” The statement is indicative of Beijing’s attempt to balance its growing relationship with Russia while also calling for dialogue and restraint. As a member of the Belt and Road initiative, Ukraine offers commercial opportunities, and China is Ukraine’s top trading partner. China could also provide Russia with a key economic lifeline in the face of heavy Western sanctions, though such a move could harm relations with Europe, where China is on a better footing than with the U.S. Likewise, India has stopped short of denouncing Russian actions. Its pursuit of “strategic autonomy” makes it an outlier among the Quad on this issue. Southeast Asian governments have also avoided concrete opposition, but called for more diplomacy and dialogue.