Alexei Borodavkin. Source: AP
What role does the Asian course now play in Russia’s foreign policy?
I would first like to point out that any country’s foreign policy – and Russia is no exception – is aimed at creating the advantageous external conditions necessary to ensure a country’s reliable security and sustained socio-economic development. International affairs strategies and tactics are formulated on that basis.
The Asian vector has in recent years objectively come to the forefront of our diplomatic work. Broad connectivity to the region’s affairs was a conscious choice on Russia’s part. The idea is to strengthen our constructive involvement in the unfolding processes of political and economic cooperation and integration there.
In Asia, our country is seen as an important agent of military and political stability and sustainable development. We have been able to lay a substantive, positive groundwork there. We have no major ideological differences or sore spots in bilateral relations that can’t be resolved through constructive dialogue. The leading states – China, India, and Vietnam – are our strategic partners and interested in continuing close, multifaceted partnerships with Russia. We are developing ties with Japan, South Korea, and a partnership dialogue with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) dynamically and on a mutually beneficial basis.
We have much to offer our partners in solving energy, transportation, scientific and technical, and environmental problems in the region, and they well know it. Without Russia ensuring regional military and political stability would be inconceivable, along with collective efforts to combat international terrorism, cooperation in the emergency response field, and dialogue between civilizations.
We hold strong positions in the multi-regional and trans-regional organisations: the Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa (BRICS) Forum, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, ASEAN Regional Forum on Security, Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia (CICA), Asia Cooperation Dialogue (ACD), and the Russia-India-China strategic triangle. Our joining the East Asia Summit (EAS) last year is evidence that Russia and Asia are inseparable. All of this suggests that our country is in great demand in the context of cooperation in the Asian space.
What are the primary goals of Russia’s policy in the Asia-Pacific region (APR)?
We have no hidden agenda in the APR, of which Russia is an integral part. We are sincerely interested in ensuring its stability, security, and prosperity, and in expanding relationships with partners and close participation in regional integration processes. For us, this is equally important as the political and economic component of our work in the region.
Let’s consider what the region is today. The APR is experiencing a powerful expansion. Even against the backdrop of today’s turmoil, the region’s leading countries show stable growth: China at 9%, India at 8%, and ASEAN at 5-6%. The APR has become the engine of global development. The center of global growth and political influence has shifted to here.
At the same time, however, we see that there are still some serious contradictions, conflicts, and territorial disputes. Numerous security challenges have accumulated on this negative “baggage” of the past, including in areas such as disarmament and nonproliferation, the fight against terrorism and organised crime, and overcoming the effects of natural and manmade disasters. There are growing economic and social risks, especially in view of the imminent new round of the global financial crisis.
With that in mind, we urge APR states to join the efforts to form inclusive regional security architecture. It’s no exaggeration to say that it’s an indispensable provision for further development of the APR. It’s important that this architecture be built on a non-bloc basis and rely on the rule of international law, recognition of indivisibility in security, and the inadmissibility of ensuring security at the expense of other states. This is the vision we are moving toward through bilateral dialogues and multilateral organisations, such as the East Asia Summit.
We actively support political efforts to build up involvement in regional economic processes. That’s no less important to us. These are tailored, above all, as much as possible to facilitate solving our country’s modernisation and innovative development problems, as well as socio-economic growth in Siberia and the Far East. Participation in the activities of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum will play a major role in this, as Russia will serve as chair in 2012. We must ensure that we continue to address the issues advanced by the United States and other countries that chaired [APEC] prior to us, as well as fully implement our own priorities. These include the further liberalisation of trade and investment activities, deepening economic integration in the region, partnerships for innovative growth, and improvement of transport and logistical systems to ensure food supply security.
We cannot ignore another important issue. Russia is a Eurasian state and our obvious mission is to serve as a bridge connecting Europe and Asia. Today, we are actively realising our unique role in the Asia-Europe Dialogue Forum, which we became a participant in last year.
None of this means that there aren’t problems with our Asia-oriented foreign policy. There are, and they affect the interests not only of Russia, but most members of the international community.
There is, for example, the continuing instability in Afghanistan and the Afghan-Pakistani border region, stemming from the region's integrated terrorist and narcotic risks. Opposing those is a priority of our bilateral cooperation with the IRA and other countries in the region, including within the framework of the CSTO and the SCO. But we can expect greater efforts on this track, and from the military forces of NATO member states being in Afghanistan.
Together with our partners, we are able to prevent permanent political and military confrontation in North-East Asia from escalating into armed conflict. However, unfortunately, Russian diplomatic efforts to resume six-party talks on the Korean Peninsula’s nuclear issue and security in the region have so far failed to restart the process. We believe that Pyongyang, Washington, and Seoul have the ball in their court, and we are waiting for them to accelerate an agreement on a formula to restart six-party talks.
We have to make sustained efforts to defuse tensions related to Iran's nuclear programme (INP), and help make it completely transparent and monitored by the IAEA. However, the situation around the INP is becoming increasingly uncomfortable. This, of course, is not conducive to helping resolve the issue, which must be achieved through peaceful political and diplomatic means.
This "list" of Asian challenges and threats that are of concern to us is not exhaustive. But it’s possible to bring them under our belt, at least in that the negative impact can be contained, thanks in no small part to Russia’s foreign policy efforts.
How does Russia see its future position in the Asia-Pacific region with the current division of labor? Given that Siberia and the Far East are rich in natural resources, but don’t boast of powerful scientific centers and manufacturing clusters, what can Russia offer the region besides raw materials?
The development of economic partnerships is of paramount importance to us, especially in areas where Russia has a comparative advantage. We see energy, transportation, nuclear energy, and space exploration as being "cross-cutting priorities.”
Our trade and economic relations with Asian countries are growing and bilateral economic projects are being successfully implemented. Work is underway to form "modernisation alliances" based on innovations in sectors with high added value with China, India, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, and Australia. South Korea and China have exhibited great interest in the Skolkovo Innovation Center. We cooperate with China on nuclear energy, space, and high technology, and with India in the same areas, as well as in the space sector and pharmaceutical industry.
We intend to continue to cooperate with Asia-Pacific countries in the energy sector, including in developing conventional and unconventional energy sources and building infrastructure for oil and liquid gas production. We will advance our potential to use the global navigation and telecommunications system GLONASS. Certainly, the main benchmark is increasing the share of competitive domestic production of goods with high added value for Russian export.
We are carefully eyeing the processes for forming a system of agreements on free trade areas (FTAs) in the APR, including within the framework of the East Asian Economic Partnership and Trans-Pacific Partnership promoted by the EAC. We intend to join closely to discuss these issues after the process of our accession to the WTO is complete, which is expected to be in December of this year.
In the meantime, we aren’t sitting idly by. We’re in the final stage of entering into negotiations for an agreement on an FTA with New Zealand, which will be signed on behalf of the Customs Union of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan. A similar document with Vietnam is under consideration, and ultimately we’ll set up the same kind of partnership with ASEAN.
What is the main thrust of the course developed in the meeting led by President Dmitry Medvedev in Khabarovsk on 2 July 2010? How is the work to implement it pursued?
I recall that the meeting was devoted to socio-economic development issues in the Far East and strengthening Russia's position in the APR. We had a necessary and very detailed discussion with an emphasis on what to do and how to build our activity in the future.
The president defined the priorities of Russian policy in the APR and instructed us to work out specific measures to implement them. This agenda was prepared and approved by the president. Implementing it is a complex and long-term project. It’s about creating favorable conditions for solving the issues of moving Russia’s economy to a path of innovative development, the effective use of the region's potential to meet the socio-economic growth needs of our eastern territories, and strengthening Russia’s position and role in regional security architecture and cooperation.
Simultaneously, work is underway in all the areas that we discussed above.
Many observers are under the impression that Russia is making a big bet in partnering with China in the Far East. For example, a programme for border region cooperation has only been signed with China. Does focusing on one partner carry risks for Russia?
The proximity to rapidly developing China that allows us to implement a development strategy for Russia’s eastern regions has undeniable advantages. In thirty years of reforms, China has made a quantum leap in socio-economic development. Northeastern China, which borders on our country, is transforming before our eyes into the modern industrial and agricultural, transport and logistics center of the entire Northeast Asia region, oriented in particular at producing high-tech products. We must take full advantage of this in developing Russia’s Far East.
China is a far-reaching and stable enough market for the traditional export sectors of our eastern territories. Those include oil, gas, coal, timber, mining products, and seafood. On the other hand, China has considerable financial resources that could be attracted for investment in the economy of Siberia and the Far East.
In order to build cooperation in a more systematic and planned manner, we developed the programme you mentioned in your question.
However, the above doesn’t mean that Russia’s East is being “farmed out” to China. The absence of similar arrangements so far with other APR countries is a flaw that we are now seeking to eliminate. The key to successfully solving this problem is to have our partners devote increased attention to joining in economic work in the Far East and Eastern Siberia.
In particular, South Korean companies support the plan to build up cooperation with us as part of the programmes to modernise the Russian economy, create innovative products, and implement projects to build industrial parks. Development of interregional cooperation between Russia and the Republic of Korea is actively underway through a bilateral intergovernmental commission committee for the Far East and Siberia, as well as through the mechanism of Russian-Korean business forums.
We have growing interest from India and Japan in participating in energy projects in the Asian part of Russia.
It is important to conduct persistent work to bring in other APR partners – the US, ASEAN countries, Australia, and New Zealand – to implement partnership projects in Eastern Russia. This will undoubtedly be promoted and conducted at the APEC Summit in 2012.
How is the implementation of the joint Russian-Chinese initiative to establish comprehensive security architecture and cooperation in the APR progressing? Is there a sense that it could suffer the same fate as the European Security Treaty?
We are consistently working to realise the principles set out in the joint initiative to establish comprehensive security architecture and cooperation in the APR. As you know, it was proposed by the leaders of Russia and China during Dmitry Medvedev’s official visit to China on 26-28 September last year. The point of it is as follows: In today's interconnected and interdependent world, in terms of cross-border challenges, a state cannot ensure its own security at the expense of other ones. It is essential that all APR countries reaffirm their commitment to the principles of equal and indivisible security, peaceful settlement of disputes, non-use or threat of force, and other basic norms of international law. From this foundation, we could move on to practical measures to build mutual confidence and resolve regional problems.
We are confident that this initiative may be a unifying idea for the Asia-Pacific region. It’s no coincidence that it was met with a positive response from many APR countries. In coordination with Chinese partners, we are promoting and clarifying it. The initiative was distributed as an official document of the 65th Session of the UN General Assembly, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced its provisions in statements at various international forums, including the recent Sixth East Asia Summit. The principles for ensuring security in the APR are laid out as its foundation and were included in joint documents following bilateral summits with leaders of the region’s key states. It's safe to say that the initiative is working.
How is cooperation with ASEAN developing? When is the programme on economic and trade cooperation expected to be signed?
Strengthening the dialogue partnership with ASEAN, which this year celebrated its 15th birthday, is one of the priorities of our APR policy, as defined by the president. The Russia-ASEAN summit held last year in Hanoi was a powerful impetus for its development. We are now actively engaged in implementing the agreements secured at the summits, focusing on two main areas.
The first one is strengthening foreign policy cooperation. We reached an agreement with ASEAN members on approaches to improving security architecture and cooperation in the APR, securing them in a joint statement by the foreign ministers in July. The partners support our thesis on the indivisibility of security, the inadmissibility of ensuring one’s own security at the expense of other states, the need to abandon confrontation and attempts to build new dividing lines.
Another key task is laying significant practical groundwork for the cooperation, to move from one-off projects to long-term programmes in the most promising areas, such as energy, infrastructure development, natural disaster prevention and mitigation, and countering new challenges and threats. Serious attention is being paid to building up the modernisation and high-tech aspect of the partnership dialogue with the G-10 countries.
For these purposes, relevant Russian agencies have developed close contacts with corresponding Association authorities. ASEAN-Russia working plans are being implemented in energy and the fight against terrorism and transnational crime. ASEAN members submitted specific proposals for establishing cooperation in the fields of nuclear energy, space, transportation, education, nano- and biotechnology, food security, and assistance in the development of the Mekong River Basin.
There is good support for the plan to expand humanitarian and academic contacts with the Association––the work of the ASEAN Center, established last year at Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO).We are also making efforts to bring together and provide guidance on specific tasks for the business community on both sides. We are using a variety of platforms to do so, including the Baikal International Economic Forum in Irkutsk.
Extensive work has been put into a systematic and planned framework to assist the trade and economic and investment cooperation “road map” between Russia and ASEAN. Preparation of a draft document developed upon leaders’ decision to eliminate existing obstacles to trade and investment is almost completed. All that is left before its formal adoption is agreeing on final formalities with ASEAN partners. We expect that this will happen by the end of this year.
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