Russia’s poorly executed invasion of Ukraine and the international community’s economic and diplomatic response are cautionary lessons for China and others who may want to attempt aggressive actions in the Pacific, the Pentagon’s policy chief for the region said last Monday.
“When we look at the types of acts of aggression that we worry about in the Indo-Pacific—and the Taiwan Strait being the top of that list—it’s going to be very difficult, and I think that there are broad lessons there to be drawn from Ukraine,” Ely Ratner, assistant defense secretary for Indo-Pacific security affairs, said at the Sea-Air-Space conference outside Washington, D.C.
“Number one, military operations are probably going to be more difficult than you think for a whole bunch of reasons: because you’re not tested in the way you think you are, because your adversary’s probably stronger than you think it is. And because the terrain might be more difficult than you’ve anticipated, et cetera.”
The economic sanctions imposed against Russia after the invasion in February went much further than expected by Russian and Chinese leaders, Ratner said.
“I think that’s a very important lesson, particularly for an economy in China that’s in very bad shape,” he said. “But to be facing, potentially, that kind of economic penalty and costs for acts of aggression is something one would not take wisely when your own economy is facing such incredible headwinds.”
China’s top priority this year is economic stability after taking hits in its property market and government regulation crackdowns in certain sectors including property, tech, and financial services, the Guardian reported. The country’s economic growth is slowing; Chinese officials expect just 5.5 percent growth in the gross domestic product this year, the lowest since 1991.
The united response by NATO and European countries against Russia’s invasion should also be a warning for those who act aggressively, Ratner said. Russia and China have spent decades “trying to chip away at America’s alliances in Asia” and in Europe as well, he said.
“And I think it’s been incredibly encouraging to the degree which NATO has come together, not just around the Russia question, but around the question of the rules-based order, the importance of the relationship with the United States,” he said.
Ratner pointed to the April 1 summit between the European Union and China where, he said, Beijing received a “cold reception.”
“I think that reflected their concerns about China’s aggression and assertiveness in the Indo-Pacific, but also the degree to which Beijing has been enabling and supporting Russia’s aggression in Ukraine.”
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