Asia will be the first region to be affected by Xi’s journey to Russia.

There has already been a recalibration in Japan and Central Asia.

Xi Jinping’s final remarks to Vladimir Putin were significant and foreboding. On Wednesday, as his visit to Moscow came to a close, China’s leader informed the Russian president, “A change is coming that we haven’t seen in a hundred years, and we’re driving this change together.”

The vows of affinity sparked concern in the West about a potential new anti-Western coalition and what it might imply for the Ukraine conflict. However, Asia will be the region that will experience the effects of Xi’s stay and the growing Chinese-Russian partnership first. In reality, the process of recalibration has already begun.

Two events that happened on the same day that Xi arrived in Moscow provide a preview of how the political landscape in Asia will develop in the future.

Fumio Kishida, the prime minister of Japan, arrived in Kiev first. The second was an invitation to the first Beijing-Central Asian meeting sent to four Central Asian nations on the same day that Xi landed in Moscow.

Together, they show how Asian nations are readjusting their diplomatic strategies in anticipation of a possible brief calm in East Asia rather than a protracted conflict in Ukraine.

Kiev’s Kishida
Kishida landed in Ukraine just hours after Xi touched down in Moscow. The intentional symbology involved the placement of the banners of the two largest countries in Asia on opposing lines of this European war. Although the war in Ukraine is undoubtedly not a worldwide battle, it has had an impact on governance in many different nations.

The conflict in Ukraine has rattled an already shaky – and, many Japanese contend, out-of-date – policy, despite the fact that Japan has traditionally taken its post-war neutral constitution seriously. Tokyo’s reaction, which included sanctioning Russian firms and sending monitoring drones to Kiev for use in the conflict, did not deviate significantly from that of Western nations.

Journalists have noticed a long list of firsts, including the first time Japan has offered assistance to a nation engaged in hostilities and the first visit by a Japanese leader to a war-torn nation since World War II. But when they are taken together, there is a strong impression that Japan is rapidly losing its peaceful past, a process that has been hastened by the conflict in Ukraine.

After a meeting in South Korea, where the two nations of Northeast Asia met for the first time in more than ten years, Kishida paid a visit to Japan. The unusual statements of friendship—Kishida called them “a new chapter”—resembled the Xi-Putin relationship in some respects.

But taken together, it suggests that Japan is getting ready for a new era in East Asia, one in which it stops lying to its allies and instead pulls them closer in the face of a fresh danger.

It is hardly necessary to explain this new danger. For Japan, the crisis in Ukraine is more than just a current issue; it represents a possible future. Japan needs Russia to “lose” so that China will not be compelled to take military action in East Asia, just as Xi needs Russia to “win” to prevent Taiwan from believing it could possibly resist a Chinese military invasion.

At a security meeting in June of last year, Kishida openly stated that “Ukraine today may be East Asia tomorrow.”

Similar conclusions are being reached in other Asian nations as well.

Central Asian change
The historically strong ties between Moscow and the Central Asian nations, which were all once part of the Soviet Union, have been put to the test by the conflict in Ukraine.

First, there was the invasion’s unintended consequence: the value of earnings sent home by Central Asian laborers in Russia has plummeted. These employees number in the millions in Russia, and the five countries’ industries significantly rely on workers returning money home.

However, over time and without much ceremony, the conflict has moved the area away from Moscow. Central Asian nations have become more open to pressure from other nations like the United States, China, and Turkey.

The wealthiest of the five nations, Kazakhstan, best exemplifies the shift in ties.

Russian soldiers were flown into Almaty, Kazakhstan’s biggest city, just weeks prior to Putin’s incursion to assist in quelling extensive demonstrations and give President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev the opportunity to recover control. A year later, Tokayev assembled lawmakers from the remainder of Central Asia and invited US Secretary of State Antony Blinken to his nation for in-depth discussions.

Simply put, these states taking advantage of a unique opportunity to exert influence over Russia is part of the shift. But, similar to Japan, a portion of it is worry about what their bigger rivals might do next. Since there are millions of Russian-speaking citizens living in Central Asian countries, it is possible that Moscow might try to annex some of their land. Few people would be willing to help them if that occurred.

Long-term changes in Asia are heralded by a long-awaited reconciliation between Japan and South Korea, Japan’s remilitarization, and the slide of Central Asia outside of Russia’s sphere.

The Ukraine War hasn’t directly caused many of these changes, but it has helped Asian politicians see options they had previously rejected, just as it has done for Western politicians. They are confident that if China attempts to retake Taiwan, they will be swept up in the turmoil because they have seen how the European nations were drawn into the conflict in the Ukraine.

This year, or perhaps even this decade, won’t see that assault. However, the conflict in Ukraine has drawn attention in Asia to a scenario that is likely to become more probable with a Russian triumph. Even though the repercussions of a conflict are still far off, the very physical unity of East Asia may depend on it.