Arms deliveries to Ukraine in the spotlight are the latest news in Asia. Last Minute GERMANY, ASIA, Russia headlines and events
Many countries in Western Europe had a long-standing policy of not sending weapons to war zones until last year. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused this attitude to change rapidly.
Among these countries, especially Germany, Sweden and Norway, many times supplied weapons to Kyiv in the struggle of Ukraine, which is considered decisive for the future of Europe.
But after almost a year of war and Europe’s struggle to produce enough ammunition for Ukraine and itself, the search for other sources of weapons began.
Some are turning to Northeast Asia for help. During his visit to South Korea and Japan this week, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg called for more military support for Ukraine, citing the example being set by European countries.
Stoltenberg said in a statement in Seoul, the capital of South Korea: “After the brutal invasion of Ukraine, European countries have changed their policies. If you do not want autocracy and tyranny, then they need weapons. This is true”.
South Korea and Japan have already sent non-lethal military equipment, such as body armor and helmets, to Ukraine. However, due to existing legal restrictions, as in many European countries, none of the countries directly sent weapons to Ukraine.
Neither South Korea nor Japan are yet signaling that their policy towards Ukraine will change. However, Stoltenberg’s comments indicate that both countries will face increased pressure from the West to provide military assistance as the war progresses.
South Korea’s Comprehensive Approach
So far, South Korea has only indirectly supported Ukraine’s war. Instead of donating weapons free of charge, the Seoul government approved the sale of South Korean-made weapons to countries that supply weapons to the Ukrainian military.
Poland, one of the leading arms suppliers to Ukraine, last year approved the purchase of $5.8 billion worth of South Korean weapons, including tanks, mortars and ammunition. South Korean companies have signed narrower agreements with Estonia and Norway; Similar negotiations are also underway with the US and Canada.
“The procured will replace old weapons sent to Ukraine by these countries, and there are credible reports that some of them are or are already being sent to Ukraine,” said Ramon Pacheco Pardo, a Korean specialist at King’s College London.
While South Korean officials have yet to announce a change in policy regarding direct arms shipments to Ukraine, their rhetoric appears to have softened.
Asked yesterday if Seoul is considering exporting weapons to Ukraine, South Korean Defense Minister Lee Jong-sup said he shared sentiments with the NATO Secretary General about the need for an international effort to resolve the crisis.
During his meeting with Stoltenberg, South Korean President Yoon Seok-yeol also spoke of “taking a possible role in cooperation with the international community to help the Ukrainian people”; but did not provide details.
Some Western media have interpreted these statements as Seoul is close to changing its mind.
However, a diplomat from a NATO country in Seoul told VOA that he does not expect major changes in South Korea’s policy anytime soon, given Russia’s close economic ties and Moscow’s influence on North Korea.
Russia is uncomfortable even with its indirect assistance to Seoul Ukraine. In March, Moscow included South Korea on its list of “hostile countries.” In October, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned South Korea that arms shipments to Ukraine would “harm relations.”
Japanese gun restrictions
Japan is unlikely to send weapons to Ukraine.
Although Tokyo has gradually toned down its pacifist approach, its legal restrictions on arms exports are stricter than in South Korea.
Despite these obstacles, Japan has been one of the main supporters of Ukraine. Quickly joining Western sanctions against Russia, Japan has sent more than a billion dollars in financial and humanitarian aid to Ukraine and its neighbors, even providing non-lethal military equipment. According to experts, it was previously unthinkable for Japan to take such a step.
“Ukrainian soldiers wear Japanese helmets and use Japanese drones on the front lines, killing soldiers in Japan’s neighboring country,” said Jeffrey J. Hall of Japan’s Kanda University for International Studies.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine came as a shock to Japan, which, like Ukraine, has nuclear-armed neighbors who pose a threat to it. As a result, polls show that the Japanese support the government’s approach to Ukraine.
Like Ukraine, Japan threatens its neighbors with nuclear weapons. For this reason, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine caused a great shock in Japan.
Opinion polls ultimately show that the Japanese public is largely supportive of the government’s approach to Ukraine.
But giving the Ukrainians supplies, such as munitions that directly kill Russians, is a more contentious issue, Hall said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida may have other priorities. Kishida needs to find a way to double his defense spending over the next five years without relying too much on tax increases.
Hall says this puts Kishida in a politically precarious situation where he would like to avoid making policy changes that could lower approval rates.
While Japan eventually sends weapons to Ukraine, the potential impact may be less than South Korea, which has a larger defense export industry.
Will the print hold up?
As the war in Ukraine continues and Western ammunition dwindles, South Korea and Japan could face even more pressure to send weapons to Ukraine.
Especially since both countries are led by conservative governments trying to move closer to the West and deepen ties with NATO.
Stoltenberg promised to forge closer ties with Japan and South Korea during his visit this week. Although he refrains from giving specific political advice, Stoltenberg said that the security of Europe and Asia are intertwined.
“We must continue to support Ukraine, no matter how long it takes. Because if Putin wins, the message he and other authoritarian leaders will get is that they can get what they want by force,” Stoltenberg said.
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