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The Guardian - AU
The Guardian - AU
Staff and agencies

Ukraine war has ‘profound impact’ on Asia, Blinken says, with eye on China’s ambitions

A Ukrainian tank heads toward Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine. Antony Blinken has said China is watching what happens in Ukraine very carefully.
A Ukrainian tank heads toward Bakhmut, in eastern Ukraine. Antony Blinken has said China is watching what happens in Ukraine very carefully. Photograph: Aris Messinis/AFP/Getty Images

US secretary of state Antony Blinken has warned that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has a “profound impact” on Asia, saying that China is watching “very carefully” how Washington and the world respond to Vladimir Putin’s war.

Speaking on the heels of a visit to Moscow by Chinese president Xi Jinping, Blinken told a Senate foreign relations hearing that if Russia was allowed to attack its neighbour with impunity, it would “open a Pandora’s box” for would-be aggressors and lead to a “world of conflict”.

“The stakes in Ukraine go well beyond Ukraine ... I think it has a profound impact in Asia, for example,” Blinken said, noting that Japan and South Korea had been major supporters of Ukraine in the conflict.

This week, Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida made a surprise visit to Ukraine, laying a wreath for the dead at a church in Bucha and meeting President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, at the same time as Xi was being treated to state dinners and raising a glass of wine with Putin in Moscow.

Russia’s invasion has led to debates about how the war will affect China’s military thinking regarding Taiwan, the self-governing island that Beijing sees as sovereign Chinese territory, to be “unified” by force if necessary.

Blinken said on Wednesday that he agreed with the CIA’s assessment that China would have the ability to invade Taiwan by 2027.

“I think if China’s looking at this [war in Ukraine] – and they are looking at it very carefully – they will draw lessons for how the world comes together, or doesn’t, to stand up to this aggression,” Blinken said.

Predictions of an invasion within the decade are usually about China’s capability. The director general of Taiwan’s national security bureau and its defence minister have said China would reach full invasion capability by, respectively, 2023 and 2025. Later dates are often based on China’s intention, picking years with symbolic significance for the Chinese Communist party (CCP).

The number of Taiwan’s diplomatic allies is dwindling, with debt-ridden Honduras saying this month it would begin establishing ties with Beijing instead, claiming Taiwan did not respond to its request to double its annual aid to $100m. Now only 13 countries recognise Taiwan as a country.

Taiwan’s former president Ma Ying-jeou will visit China next week in the first visit by a current or former leader since the defeated Nationalist Chinese government fled to the island at the end of the civil war in 1949.

Despite the warm welcome Xi received in Moscow this week, Blinken said he did not believe that China had been providing lethal aid to support Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“As we speak today, we have not seen them cross that line,” Blinken told a separate Senate subcommittee hearing on Wednesday. “They have a marriage of convenience – I’m not sure if it’s conviction. Russia is very much a junior partner in this relationship,” he said, noting that China’s political and material support for Russia went against Washington’s interests.

Blinken has publicly warned for weeks that China is considering Russian requests for weapons to fight in Ukraine, with some reports indicating limited shipments by Chinese companies to Moscow.

Blinken was responding on Wednesday to questions about President Joe Biden’s $63bn budget request – a rise of 11% – to face threats posed by Russia and China.

“The post-cold war world is over, and there is an intense competition under way to determine what comes next,” he said.

On the first of two days of testimony to Congress, Blinken also said the US would encourage other countries to extradite Putin if he visits after an arrest warrant issued by the international criminal court (ICC).

“I think that anyone who is a party to the court and has obligations should fulfil their obligations,” Blinken said.

But he stopped short of saying the US, which is not part of the ICC, would do so itself, calling the question “hypothetical”.

“I don’t think he has any plans to travel here soon,” he said of Putin.

With Reuters and Agence France-Presse

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