9 March 2022
Pacific and Ukraine
If Russia was hoping to find the Pacific sympathetic to its invasion of Ukraine, it must now be disappointed. At the emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly last week, realising the gravity of the Ukraine situation, all Pacific island countries voted to condemn Russia’s invasion. The Federated States of Micronesia has gone so far as to sever all diplomatic ties with Russia.
During previous international disputes involving Russia, several Pacific island countries sided with Moscow, using their sovereignty as leverage. In 2009, Nauru established diplomatic relations with Georgia’s pro-Russia breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in exchange for financial assistance from Russia. In 2011, Vanuatu and Tuvalu followed, although both subsequently withdrew these recognitions in 2013 and 2014, respectively. In 2012, the Russian foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, visited Fiji, and in 2016 twenty shipping containers of Russian arms arrived in Suva.
Nonetheless, Pacific island countries know that their agency would be limited in a world where “might is right”. They are usually strong advocates for rules that govern the behaviour of states, and the respect for sovereignty, and are, therefore, deeply concerned about Russia’s aggression.
However, the invasion is creating difficulties for the Pacific. With the prospect of an embargo on Russian oil being discussed in Washington, the price of oil has risen to its highest rate since 2008. Of the Pacific island countries, only Papua New Guinea has its own fossil fuel resources. Others are reliant on oil importation. Any cost increases or supply issues will have serious repercussions for the Pacific’s economic activity, and potentially for their balance of payments.
Late last week the leaders of Australia, the United States, Japan and India held an emergency meeting of the Quad, ostensibly to discuss the crisis in Ukraine. While India has been less vocal in its condemnations of Russia, and is not involved in any sanctions against Moscow, the meeting was not designed to bring New Delhi in lock step with the other three members.
India has been moving away from its traditional non-aligned foreign policy, forging closer ties with the West and Japan while maintaining strong security links with Russia. Washington, Canberra and Tokyo are aware of India’s engagements with Russia and know this limits its ability to act in unison in relation to Moscow’s assault on Ukraine.
Yet, India and the other Quad countries are firmly on the same page when it comes to deterring China. This is the motivating force of the grouping, and last week’s meeting was designed to send a signal to Beijing that despite the war in Eastern Europe, the members of the Quad are maintaining their focus on the Indo-Pacific.
The primary concern for the Quad is that China may use the war in Ukraine to pursue its own adventurism in Asia. Referring to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Japan’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, stated, “We’ve agreed that unilateral changes to the status quo with force like this should not be allowed in the Indo-Pacific region.”
The hope for the Quad is that Russia’s difficulties in achieving its objectives in Ukraine make Beijing more cautious with its own plans for Taiwan.
Uttar Pradesh Election
On Thursday, the results of five Indian state elections will be released. The most critical for international observers is Uttar Pradesh. With an estimated population of 240 million people, Uttar Pradesh is a behemoth even by Indian standards. The state lies along the Indo-Gangetic Plain that dominates northern India; it is the heartland of the Hindi language, home to many of India’s most important cultural sites and is the country’s primary political prize.
For the past five years, Uttar Pradesh has been governed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and led by the chief minister and zealous Hindu priest, Yogi Adityanath.
While Modi has shown tacit approval of the more radical forces of political Hinduism, Adityanath has demonstrated no such need to feign dispassion. He has habitually stoked hostility towards the state’s Muslim minority (just under 20 per cent of the population), while prioritising the building and restoration of temples over the development and economic investment that the state’s bulging population requires.
Australia and its allies are desperate for India to become a regional counterweight to China. Essential to this is massive states like Uttar Pradesh taking full advantage of their human resources. Yet, at present, the state has some of the poorest social indicators in the country. Uttar Pradesh places thirty-fifth in a ranking of India’s twenty-eight states and eight territories by their Human Development Index. Only neighbouring Bihar – home to another estimated 130 million people – fares more poorly.
If, as is feared, Adityanath is the future of the BJP, then the concern for Australia is that the party’s political Hinduism will continue to run counter to Canberra’s geostrategic desires.