March 9, 2022, 07.51 PM

Critics call for a sharper response

Yet there is also recognition that not criticizing Putin’s motives in Ukraine — where the war threatens to make a mockery of international law and is also testing Western resolve to defend the sovereignty of smaller states — could have a direct impact on Southeast Asians themselves.

“Unless we, as a country, stand up for principles that are the very foundation for the independence and sovereignty of smaller nations, our own right to exist and prosper as a nation may similarly be called into question,” Singapore’s Foreign Minister, Vivian Balakrishnan, has said.

This, indeed, appears to be the dividing issue. For some, the war in Ukraine is a distant issue which Southeast Asians can do little to influence, and any involvement in would only bring unwanted difficulties upon themselves. For others, the Ukraine war has very real implications for the region.

With the exception of Singapore, it is striking that “most states are in utter denial that Russia’s justification for an invasion of Ukraine undermine core principles of international law and create very dangerous precedents,” said Abuza.

“If Russia can make sweeping unilateral claims to the territory of a sovereign state based on cultural affinity and history, then what’s to stop China from doing the same thing?” he added.

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