But Shada Islam, a Brussels-based commentator on Asian international relations, reckons the response is less to do with China than with “the region’s traditional wariness of meddling in other countries’ affairs” especially over what appears to some to be a distant crisis in eastern Europe.
Days after the invasion, Philippine Defense Secretary, Delfin Lorenzana, said, “It’s none of our business to meddle in whatever they’re doing in Europe.”
The US and the European countries “are disappointed and a bit confused about this and are hoping they can convince [Southeast Asian governments] to change their minds,” Islam said.
For decades, Southeast Asian governments have taken a strict policy of non-interference in any other country’s affairs — the so-called “ASEAN Way.” Cracks appeared to be forming in this position, though, after several regional governments took a tough line by disinviting Myanmar’s military junta from regional summits last year.
Joel Ng, a research fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, called it “disappointing” that Southeast Asian states aren’t defending the principle of non-interference “more vigorously.”
According to Ng, most of the governments have gone as far as they want to in this crisis. They will have to comply with Western sanctions on Russia, but he reckons it’s very unlikely others will join Singapore in imposing their own unilateral measures against Moscow.
There also appears to be much debate about why the war in Ukraine started in the first place, with viewpoints often influenced by national sensitivities. According to the latest State of Southeast Asia survey, published last month by the ISEAS-Yusof Ishak Institute, opinions are split between the US and China, but the majority of Southeast Asians are determined not to be dragged into the orbit of either superpower.
“While against Russia’s use of military force toward civilians and the violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty, the regional countries should also speak up on the root cause of the war: the extension of NATO to Eastern Europe that provokes Russian insecurity,” argued Evi Fitriani, a professor of International Relations at Universitas Indonesia.