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East Asian Security After Ukraine

If Russian President Vladimir Putin gets away with his aggression in Ukraine – securing concessions without paying a heavy economic price – Japan will be motivated to take more radical action to ensure its own security. In this sense, the Ukraine war, though far away, poses a substantial risk to stability in East Asia.

TOKYO – Across Europe, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has spurred a rethink of virtually all dimensions of security, from defense to energy. The war’s likely impact on security in East Asia, especially in Taiwan and Japan, has received far less attention. But the coming transformation may turn out to be just as profound.

The Ukraine war, though far away, poses a substantial risk to East Asia. China is watching the conflict – and the West’s response – closely. If Russia pays a high price for its actions, with sanctions (which Japan has also imposed) enduring long enough to decimate its economy, China may be discouraged from taking military action against Taiwan, at least until it can ensure that its economy is well protected.

If, however, Russia is rewarded for its invasion, installing a puppet government in Kyiv and securing the relatively quick rollback of Western sanctions, China might be emboldened to increase its pressure on Taiwan, and even to invade the island at the earliest opportunity. If it does, Japan may well be dragged into the conflict, because its own Senkaku Islands – over which China has claimed sovereignty since the 1970s – are less than 140 miles from Taiwan.

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