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The Finnishization of Asia EJINSIGHT

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“Finlandization” describes the commitment to strategic neutrality that a small country might take, in order to avoid provoking a much larger and more powerful neighbour. The term is derived from Finland’s longstanding policy of strict military non-alignment with the Soviet Union or the West – a policy it maintained vis-à-vis Russia after the end of the war. cold but that its recent application for NATO membership has overturned. But even as Finland abandons finlandization, many Asian countries may well be ready to embrace it.

Unlike Finland and its European partners, most Asian countries have refrained from verbal or vocal condemnation of Russia’s war on Ukraine. Of the 35 countries that abstained in the United Nations General Assembly vote on March 2 on a resolution demanding that Russia end its invasion of Ukraine, 11 were in Asia.

Two of those countries that abstained were great powers: China and India. For China, the decision to abstain was perhaps less about Russia, with which it signed a cooperation agreement a few weeks before the invasion, than about the West. Chinese leaders are highly skeptical of Western values ​​and fear the militarization of Western-led international institutions. If and when China decides to invade Taiwan, it hopes to avoid the high international costs that Russia has incurred for its aggression in Ukraine.

India, for its part, likely abstained due to its longstanding ties with Russia. India led the Non-Aligned Movement in the 1950s and 1960s – a period when it also pursued Soviet-style socialist economic policies. India abandoned these policies in the early 1990s – around the same time communism was collapsing in Europe – but continued to depend on Russia for military supplies, including warplanes and tanks. . Given the importance of these supplies, India cannot afford to alienate Russia, despite the Kremlin’s increasingly close partnership with China, which is waging a stealth war with India in the Himalayas.

Small abstaining countries – Bangladesh, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan and Vietnam – are even more likely to replicate some version of finlandization, reflecting pressure from Russia and China. Meanwhile, Japan and South Korea remain the West’s frontline in the region, facing threats from both powers, as well as North Korea (which voted against the resolution).

US President Joe Biden is currently in Asia trying to bolster that front. In meetings with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, Biden sought to lay the groundwork for deeper cooperation, including planning for various contingencies, such as a North Korean missile attack. on one of the three territories of the countries. Biden has even vowed to militarily defend Taiwan in the event of an invasion.

But Biden held separate bilateral meetings with Yoon and Kishida. For the front line to hold, South Korea, Japan and the United States must develop a viable three-party strategy to deal with the security challenges facing Asia.

Here, Yoon’s election victory last March gives reason for hope. After defeating the incumbent party candidate, Yoon is expected to break with the foreign policy of his predecessor, Moon Jae-in. This includes abandoning Moon’s policy of appeasement toward North Korea, the biggest military threat to the South, and replacing his policy of “strategic ambiguity” in the Sino-US rivalry with stronger ties. deep with the United States. In fact, when they recently met, Biden and Yoon affirmed the critical importance of broad deterrence in their shared policy toward the North Korean regime.

Another political mistake Moon made was allowing South Korea’s relationship with Japan to be poisoned by historic disagreements dating back to World War II. Rather than remaining weighed down by the burden of history, the leaders of South Korea, Japan and the United States must bear the burden of peace together. We hope Yoon understands this.

Kishida, too, broke with the policies of his predecessors, who embodied a softer approach to Russia, in the hope that Russia would return to Japan the four Kuril Islands that Stalin had seized at the end of World War II. world. Abe Shinzō – Japan’s longest-serving prime minister, whose term ended in 2020 – met with Russian President Vladimir Putin 27 times between 2012 and 2020 and provided Russia with substantial economic aid.

These efforts proved unsuccessful. Putin never came close to engaging in serious negotiations on the islands. In any case, Japan has now abandoned the business. Following the invasion of Ukraine, Kishida’s administration quickly announced that it would join the rest of the G7 in imposing tough sanctions on Russia. It has since suspended most of its economic engagement with Russia.

Japan and South Korea seem determined to maintain a united front with the United States and Europe against Russia. This unity must be maintained – at the very least, until the willful Finnishization of Asia that the Ukraine war spurred begins to reverse.

Copyright : Project Syndicate
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Takatoshi Itō

A former Japanese deputy finance minister, the writer is a professor at the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University and a senior professor at the National Institute of Policy Studies in Tokyo.