While Ukraine may be halfway around the world, its effect has spread into our East Asiatic and Pacific region. One example that readily comes to mind is the evolving situation taking place between Russia and Japan.
Russia and Japan are at odds over the Kuril Islands. The Kurils are islands located in the ‘Northern Territories’ region of Japan, which were seized by the Soviet Union after the end of World War II. To this day, Russia and Japan have not formally reconciled the longstanding disagreement regarding who controls the Kurils because of unresolved issues impacting the four southernmost islands found between the Pacific Ocean and the Sea of Okhotsk.
Sanctions, sanctions, sanctions
Japan recently installed economic sanctions against Russia in response to Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine. Sanctions include banning high technology exports and the revocation of the “Most Favored Nation” status for commerce and trade. These developments came on the heels of bilateral progress made between Japan and Russia on possible trade agreements over wind, oil and gas produced energy, fishing, and tourism.
Russia imposed restrictions on visa-free travel against Japanese who are interested in going to the southern Kuril islands. Russia also cut off bilateral economic cooperative talks that have taken place with Japan over the last several years.
The Russian influence
Russia has and continues to conduct military exercises in the Pacific Ocean north of Tokyo. Russia views Japan’s Northern Territories as one opportunity to ensure that it maintains an ongoing military presence near the main Japanese isles. Russia has placed missile defense system assets on the Kurils, as Japan made the concurrent decision not to construct and place a shore-based Aegis ballistic missile defense system in-country.
It remains to be seen just how the Russo-Japanese relationship will evolve. Russia sees the Near East region in a more strategic context because of its vast and extensive borderline and substantial natural resource base. Japan may view its relationship with Russia as less strategic and more transactional. Japan is a world economic power that depends on multilateral cooperation to secure natural resources for energy and other domestic population needs.
Australia is now in the mix, this time in support of Japan
Japan and Australia are entering a new era. Both nations have signed a security cooperation document that is part of a broader bilateral relationship that covers trade, commerce, and access to raw materials. This development may be construed by the Chinese government as a restraint to some degree on China’s ability to unilaterally protect and defend its near seas region, due in part to territorial disputes between Japan and China.
China and Australia have a significant economic trade relationship because China is Australia’s largest trading partner, not the United States. Recent developments in the Chinese Australian bilateral trade relationship have pointed to worsening relations as China placed several sanctions on Australia. Australia continues to engage China while simultaneously sending signals to the United States and Britain that it wants to maintain closer military-to-military ties with the West. China views this as provocative because its government interprets Australian military relationships with both the U.S. and England as anti-Chinese.
Continue to watch China through the lens of how the Ukrainian situation unfolds
China has many reasons for keeping a close eye on how Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues to unfold. Russia views Ukraine as part of its strategic national identity. China views Taiwan as part of its strategic national identity. How things finally end up with the Russians in Ukraine will affect how China views its ability to influence public opinion worldwide when it comes to Taiwan.
When or if China decides to invade Taiwan, millions of Taiwanese will have nowhere to go should a hot war ever erupt. The consequences of such an action would have a catastrophic effect on the overall security of worldwide sea and air-based trade in our broad region.
Yet the ability of China to shape and interact throughout its immediate region has deeper repercussions for the United States over the long term when compared to the repercussions associated with Ukraine, notwithstanding select short term financial and commodities market swings.
The United States must continually assess how it uses all instruments of American national power in its dealings with China because hundreds of billions of dollars of private American investment money are placed in China, and China owns over $1 trillion of U.S. government issued debt.
It is important to also consider that Russia and China continue to increasingly use the Chinese yuan to conduct economic and business transactions, which over time, may signal a trend of the primacy of the American dollar being eventually replaced by the yuan or by other means of exchange such as crypto currency-based transactions as the world’s most important means of exchange.
What does all this mean for our Chamorro people and the Marianas?
War, foreign affairs, geo-politics, and geo-economics are related. Our Chamorro people have the incentive to learn about linkages tied to food, energy, security, and peace because our island chain is from one viewpoint, an invaluable, military-centric American colonial dependency.
Our people have the incentive to critique what is taking place throughout our region and how key American allies are negotiating with each other to further increase commerce and military operations in our immediate backyard. Our people have the incentive to pay attention to recent developments taking place among Japan, Australia, Russia, Ukraine, and the U.S.
Foreign affairs affect the long-term health, quality of life, and overall security of our Mariana Islands and broader region.
Let’s remember that the West is not backing the United States as strongly as we may think when it comes to Ukraine. The American public has started to get media coverage fatigue on Ukraine developments, and as was the case with the U.S. involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, the general population of our nation will find something else to grab our collective attention over time.