By Nick Bisley*
In 2022, the Asian summit season will be of great interest due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The annual East Asia summit, ASEAN and APEC meetings still attract attention due to the proximity of many world leaders, but the less prestigious work of multilateral mechanisms continues throughout. throughout the year with the aim of stimulating cooperation and preparing for the jamborees at the end of the year.
Russia is a resident power in Asia and is a member of all the key bodies that make up the region’s multilateral architecture. It became an ASEAN Dialogue Partner in 1996, joined APEC in its final expansion in 1998, is a member of the ASEAN Regional Forum and Asian Defense Ministers Meeting process more and joined the 2011 East Asia Summit with the United States. However, interest in regional affairs and participation in these processes has risen and fallen over time.
Since its invasion of Ukraine, relations with Russia have divided the region. While the United States, Australia and Japan have been at the forefront of countries opposed to Russia, others have more mixed views. Indonesia and India distanced themselves from the position taken by the United States – to the dismay of the elites in Washington – with most Southeast Asian States who denounced the conflict without naming or blaming Russia.
Most obviously of all, China sought to position himself neither as a critic nor as a partisan, while in some of his actions he supported Russia and shows no signs to change position in the face of Western criticism.
Given that the institutions that make up the region’s multilateral architecture are built on strong norms of consensus, how will division on such an important issue affect them and the role they play in an increasingly regional order? more divided?
As none of these mechanisms have the binding legal obligations required by the European Union or the WTO – where there are commitments, they are made through treaties – there is an absence of formal measures to force the hand of the members. Similarly, none of the groupings has the means to prevent a member’s participation in larger gatherings and operations.
The only way to prevent Russia from participating in the East Asia summit in Phnom Penh or the APEC leaders’ summit in Bangkok would be through political means and would require unanimity from all other members. As most of the participants prioritize their relations with Moscow, it is reasonable to assume that Russia will be able to participate, if it chooses to do so.
While in the past Russia has had uneven engagement with Asian institutions, it seems likely that Moscow will make a point of attending this year as part of its efforts to assert that its actions in Ukraine are legitimate and should not have no consequence on his participation in the international company.
But Russia’s participation could cause a damaging rift within the membership, as the United States, Australia, Japan and others would aim to block Russia, and failing that, they could demote or withdraw altogether. their own involvement. For organizations that prioritize inclusiveness and consensus and place great importance on the confidentiality of the expression of differences, this would be very detrimental. Therefore, ASEAN members will try to narrow the gaps between non-ASEAN members as much as possible and hold a summit season as usual.
The invasion of Ukraine is unlikely to be resolved quickly, and because the United States and many of its allies have framed the conflict in stark ideological terms, it is difficult to see the kind of complex diplomacy needed to reconcile Russia, China and the United States. come pass.
One hope could be that Russia chooses to reduce its presence, voluntarily paving the way for a more palatable set of diplomatic optics. This seems unlikely, as it would imply some kind of constraint on his own ability, even guilt, for his actions. Similarly, Russian President Vladimir Putin may find it hard to resist the opportunity to irritate the United States and its allies by showing diplomatic good grace with his supporters and fellow travelers in the region.
Asia’s multilateral architecture was already struggling to cope with the return of great power rivalry, and internal divisions among members over the role and function of regional cooperation were becoming increasingly visible. Russia invasion of Ukraine revealed that Asian states have far more diverse interests than many were prepared to acknowledge. As a result, the institutional mechanisms that make up the architecture risk being further weakened, reducing their appeal to members and contributing to a downward spiral that is difficult to stem.
While 2022 has become the year that war returns to Europe, it may also be the year that efforts by Asian states to create inclusive and outward-looking ways of managing the region have finally been recognized as not up to the task in a contested Asia.
*About the author: Nick Bisley is Dean of Humanities and Social Sciences and Professor of International Relations at La Trobe University.
Source: This article was published by East Asia Forum