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Why Most of the Indo-Pacific Tiptoes Around Russia

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A major land war looms over Europe.

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Since the start of Russia’s increasingly brutal war in Ukraine, the West has ramped up pressure on the rest of the world to condemn Moscow’s belligerence and join sanctions against Russia and its regime. In the vast Indo-Pacific region, however, the West’s message has fallen flat. Only six staunch U.S. allies and partners there—Australia, Japan, New Zealand, Singapore, South Korea, and Taiwan—have joined Western sanctions or initiated their own. The rest of the region has refused to join the West thus far. That’s in large part because most of these countries are already struggling to position themselves in the intensifying competition between the United States and China—and the emergence of an additional superpower conflict between the United States and Russia increases the perceived risks of aligning with the West, especially when Moscow and Beijing are working so closely together.

The most notable of the region’s abstainers, of course, are the two heavyweights: India and China. From a grand strategy perspective, they are leveraging the crisis to hasten the transition from a unipolar to a multipolar international order to reduce the West’s ability to dominate the system. Despite edging closer to Washington in recent years, New Delhi has notably refused to condemn Moscow, mainly because India continues to be highly dependent on Russian weapons to maintain its military—a close relationship that dates back to the Cold War and one that India doesn’t want to put at risk. Shortly before the Russian invasion, Chinese President Xi Jinping promised Russian President Vladimir Putin friendship with “no limits,” a manifestation of the two leaders’ common vision of pushing back against what they perceive as encroachment by the West. Both India and China have exploited the crisis to buy up Russian oil and other commodities at a heavy discount now that some Western countries are cutting imports (though Russian supplies still make up only a small share of their imports compared to most European countries). To facilitate these purchases and help Russia reduce its dependence on U.S. dollars, India is even reportedly devising a rupee-to-rubles currency swap arrangement.

India and China’s positions are therefore no surprise. What’s more remarkable is how few other countries in the region have joined efforts to punish Russia. To be sure, many Indo-Pacific governments have voiced their concerns at the United Nations, where the Security Council and General Assembly have voted on nine resolutions related to Russia and Ukraine since the start of the war. But all of these were nonbinding........

© Foreign Policy

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