In a special emergency session on Wednesday, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) voted on a resolution condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The resolution “[d]eplores in the strongest terms the Russian Federation’s aggression against Ukraine in violation of Article 2, paragraph 4 of the United Nations Charter” and “[d]ecides that the Russian Federation shall immediately, completely, and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.” While the UNGA resolution is not binding, it resulted in a clear symbolic defeat for Russia. In the final tally, 141 countries supported the resolution, with just five voting against it and another 35 abstaining.
Within the Asia-Pacific region covered by The Diplomat, just two countries voted against the resolution: Russia itself and North Korea. Ten countries abstained: Bangladesh, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Mongolia, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, and Vietnam. (Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan did not vote at all.) Meanwhile, 14 Asia-Pacific countries not only voted in favor but co-sponsored the resolution: Australia, Cambodia, Fiji, Japan, Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Micronesia, New Zealand, Palau, Papua New Guinea, South Korea, Samoa, Singapore, and Timor-Leste,
A map of the results makes the regional divisions starkly apparent. Central Asia came down most strongly in Russia’s camp – unsurprising, given the region’s close ties to Moscow. None of the five Central Asian republics voted in favor of the motion; all either abstained or did not participate in the vote at all.
In South Asia, countries were evenly divided, with four supporting the resolution (Afghanistan, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Nepal) and four abstaining (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka). Afghanistan’s vote gets an asterisk, however, as the country’s U.N. delegation is still made up of representatives of the former Republic of Afghanistan government. The Taliban regime has been more neutral, calling for “both parties” to “exercise restraint,” a position more consistent with an abstention.
Pakistan took particular care to emphasize the “indivisible security” principle in its comments on Wednesday, which is a nod to Russia’s position. The support is not a surprise; Prime Minister Imran Khan was famously in Russia for a state visit the day Moscow sent troops across the border into Ukraine. India, meanwhile, despite close historical ties to the Soviet Union and Russia, sounded somewhat less supportive of the Russian position, with its representative calling for “an immediate cessation of violence and an end to hostilities, noting that all United Nations Member States are not only obliged to follow the Charter but also to respect international law, territorial integrity and State sovereignty.”
In Southeast Asia, despite the reluctance of most governments to take a strong stance against Russia’s aggression, in the end most of the region supported the resolution. Cambodia was even a surprise last-minute addition to the co-sponsor list. Of the 10 ASEAN members, eight – Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, and Thailand – voted in favor, as did non-ASEAN member Timor-Leste. Vietnam and Laos were the only abstentions. However, Myanmar’s vote, like Afghanistan’s, does not represent the current regime – the country’s U.N. seat is still held by Kyaw Moe Tun, who was appointed by the civilian government ousted in last year’s coup. “Myanmar condemns the invasion of Ukraine and unprovoked attacks against the people of Ukraine,” Kyaw Moe Tun said on Wednesday in the UNGA debate. Myanmar’s junta, however, has offered firm support for Russia’s actions and would certainly have voted differently.
Northeast Asia saw a clear split between Russia’s neighbors – China, Mongolia, and North Korea – which all abstained on the vote and U.S. allies South Korea and Japan, which both co-sponsored the resolution. North Korea positioned itself closest to Russia, as evidenced by its “no” vote. North Korea’s U.N. ambassador told the General Assembly that “the root cause of the Ukraine crisis lies in the hegemonic policy of the United States and the West,” which “indulge themselves in high-handedness and arbitrariness towards other countries.”
China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun took a more nuanced position, calling the situation in Ukraine “heart-wrenching” but also “highly complex and sensitive.” Like Pakistan’s representative, Zhang made sure to reference the “universal security of all parties,” a Russian talking point. “Regretfully the draft resolution… has not undergone full consultations… nor does it take into full consideration the history and the complexity of the current crisis… It does not highlight the importance of the principle of indivisible security,” Zhang said in explaining China’s abstention.
Seoul, by contrast, made a particularly poignant case for U.N. intervention. “My country still exists today because the peoples of the United Nations at the time stood up immediately to the cries of the innocent lives,” South Korea’s U.N. ambassador told the General Assembly on Tuesday. “This is why my delegation does not see the situation in Ukraine as some distant tragedy.”
Oceania, meanwhile, gave full-throated support to the resolution, with nearly every Pacific Island state voting in favor. In the debate preceding the vote, Fijian Ambassador Satyendra Prasad, speaking on behalf of the Pacific Islands Forum, called for the “withdrawal of Russian armed forces and an end to the aggression, which violates the [U.N.] Charter.” Prasad also urged that “…The world needs its diplomats and all its leaders to address climate change and can only do so once peace is restored in Ukraine.”
In final remarks before the vote, Russia’s U.N. ambassador decried “open and cynical threats” from the West to get other countries to support the resolution. He also emphasized that the resolution would not end the war in Ukraine.
But perhaps the most convincing explanation for the widespread support for the resolution among small developing countries, including much of the Asia-Pacific, came from the Maldives. “As a small state” the Maldives “has always taken a principled stand on violations of the territorial integrity of a sovereign country,” Thilmeeza Hussain, the Maldives’ U.N. ambassador said on Monday. “…[T]his position is based on a bedrock belief in the equality of all States and unconditional respect for the principles of the United Nations Charter…
“We know we do not possess powerful weapons of destruction; instead we rely on our principles and the solidarity of nations.”