ST Deep Dive: Limits of Sino-Russian concord; Himalayan blunder

Here's a round-up of recent commentaries and more by think-tanks in the region and elsewhere that could be of interest to those who watch Asia.

Ukraine war casts cloud over Taiwan

The impact of the Ukraine crisis on the Taiwan issue is multifaceted. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Last week, this blog brought you an American perspective of the Ukraine war’s likely fallout on the Taiwan issue, written by Mr Drew Thompson of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. 

This week, we highlight a Chinese perspective.

Dr Qi Dongtao, research fellow of the East Asian Institute argues that the impact of the Ukraine crisis on the Taiwan issue is multifaceted and could be in some respects significant and far-reaching.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine will likely lead the United States and its allies to make more comprehensive preparations and plans for the Taiwan issue, he says. 

On the same issue, China will face greater pressure from the US and the West. 

The US will possibly double up on its traditional means of intervention such as arms sales, visits, pro-Taiwan legislation and shaping of international public opinion. 

It will likely also further internationalise the Taiwan issue to increase the political, economic, military and reputational costs for China should the latter decide to militarily resolve the Taiwan issue in the future.

Limits of Sino-Russian concord

Russian President Vladimir Putin attending a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Feb 4, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has highlighted the resilience but also limitations of Sino-Russian partnership, says Dr Bobo Lo in this important paper for the Lowy Institute, where the seasoned Australian diplomat is a non-resident fellow. 

Far from being an “arc of autocracy”, this is an interests-based relationship between strategically autonomous powers, he argues.

Chinese President Xi Jinping’s sympathies lie almost entirely with his Russian counterpart, Mr Vladimir Putin, but China’s dependence on the international system necessitates a flexible approach. 

Mr Xi’s balancing act will become harder to sustain as the war drags on, but his default position is to preserve the Sino-Russian partnership in some form.

Much of the Western misreading of the Xi-Putin summit in February has been conditioned by subsequent events in Ukraine, says Dr Lo. 

Thus, the phrase “no limits” has become equated with Beijing green-lighting the Russian invasion. 

Yet the evidence points to the Chinese leadership being taken by surprise - from its failure to make provision for the 6,000 Chinese students stranded in Ukraine to its haphazard public diplomacy in the immediate aftermath of the invasion.

Himalayan blunder

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not acknowledged the loss of Indian territories. PHOTO: AFP

While the world is focused on Ukraine, chances of clashes in the high Himalayas, where Chinese and Indian troops are in a face-off, are rising, says Dr Brahma Chellaney, professor of strategic studies at the New Delhi–based Centre for Policy Research and fellow at the Robert Bosch Academy in Berlin.

Seeking to protect his image as a strong leader, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has not acknowledged the loss of Indian territories. However, that should not be mistaken for unwillingness to fight, Prof Chellaney says in this analysis for the Australian Strategic Policy Institute.

India is committed to restoring the status quo ante and is at its "highest level" of military readiness. 

This is no empty declaration, he warns. If Mr Xi seeks to break the stalemate by waging war, both sides will suffer heavy losses, with no victor emerging.

In other words, the Chinese President has picked a border fight that he cannot win and transformed a conciliatory India into a long-term foe. 

Meanwhile, Dr Sana Hashmi, a visiting fellow at the Taiwan-Asia Exchange Foundation, argues in this paper for the Institute of South Asian Studies that recent geopolitical shifts such as the emergence of the Indo-Pacific region, revival of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and fast-developing partnership between Delhi and Washington motivate India and Taiwan to expand the horizons of their bilateral collaboration.

Taiwan has identified India as one of its top priority countries for external engagement under the New Southbound Policy launched in 2016. 

Malaysian patriarchy

The contestation over gender relations currently favour conservative attitudes as Malaysia lags in women issues. PHOTO: UNSPLASH

Recent controversial comments made by Malaysian Deputy Minister of Women, Family and Community Development Siti Zailah Mohd Yusoff, a leader of the Malaysian Islamic Party, suggesting that husbands could use a gentle but firm physical touch to educate recalcitrant wives has set off a furore among gender right groups over this apparent condoning of domestic violence.

Dr Faris Ridzuan, research officer in the regional social and cultural studies programme at the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute and visiting fellow Mohd Faizal Musa write that the contestation over gender relations, especially evinced by official government narrative and policy, is currently unevenly skewed to favour conservative attitudes as Malaysia lags in women issues. 

This article argues that the appointment of conservative political office holders who hold a patriarchal and androcentric worldview, especially on domestic violence, coupled with the dominance of literalist religious interpretations on gender, strongly inhibit gender equality in Malaysia as a whole.

On a related theme, the advance of conservative Islamic ideology in Indonesia, see this article in The Straits Times by Ambassador Barry Desker.

Joko’s political oil slick

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo seemed to be at the apex of his power when the year began. PHOTO: REUTERS

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) seemed to be at the apex of his power when the year began, controlling some eight in 10 seats in the powerful Lower House of Parliament. 

However, rising inflation in Indonesia, especially for cooking oil prices, has dented his popularity say Dr Burhanuddin Muhtadi, a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Social and Political Sciences, Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University, Jakarta, and Fulcrum editor Julia Lau in this commentary for the ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute.

If left unresolved, they write, his party’s showing in the next elections could be adversely affected by this issue.

Indikator’s latest national survey in May showed that Mr Jokowi’s approval rating has once again slipped to 58.1 per cent, his lowest in the past six years.

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