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Igor Ivanov

President of the Russian International Affairs Council (RIAC), Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation (1998–2004)

The matter  of whether or not Russia  is  an Asian country may seem academic to some. Suffice it to glance at a map to see that Russia is the largest
country in the continent and its eastern “façade” spreads over a biggish chunk of Asia’s Pacific coast. Russia’s major trade and economic partners are likewise in Asia, above all China,  which has recently  become number  one in  the general trade turnover with this country. Russia is a member of the chief Asian multilateral organizations, not excepting such influential ones as APEC.

And yet many people in Asia continue to regard Russia as not quite Asian. Possibly because ethnically, religiously and politically speaking, Russia has always  gravitated toward Europe rather than Asia. Or else because the bulk of Russia’s population lives in the country’s western part, after all. But the main reason, to me, lies elsewhere. Despite all our attempts to occupy  a fitting place in the Asia-Pacific community that is taking shape before our very eyes, Russia is still on the fringe of the process in many respects. The potential of Russia as an Asian power remains largely unrealized.

This is due primarily to the fact that Russia is too slow and at times inconsistent in restructuring the economy of its eastern areas; it does not create the right incentives for foreign investors, or for their Russian counterparts, come to that. Russia’s Asian parts are up against a particularly tough infrastructure situation; small business there is crying out for encouragement, and migration processes are badly in need of control. In region-related international affairs we do not always manage to comprehend the logic of our Asian neighbors, which occasionally results in annoying miscalculations.

At the same time our Asian neighbors are not exactly blameless either. To some of them the Cold War is as good as still under way; they continue to base their Russia policies on the principles laid down all of fifty years ago. Others regard Russia exclusively as a raw material source they can use  to pump out the required  resources,  preferably at a minimum  cost to  themselves.  Still  others  believe  that furthering relations with Russia can wait till more auspicious times, because at the moment the Asian political priorities are in a different area.

Russia’s  2012 APEC chairmanship  affords  a  unique opportunity of reevaluating the prospects of Russia’s integration in the Asia-Pacific community within the framework of integration processes currently under way in the region.  The  Russian  leadership,  attaching  as it does tremendous importance to acting as a chair there, has done a lot of spadework to imbue with real meaning the chairmanship agendas.  That work involved not only ministries, but also many of the regions, and expert panels. The country has invested heavily in the project.

The Russian team of experts and relevant departments were inevitably confronted with the following questions in the course of preparation for the summit: Is Russia, as the host economy, entitled to alter the APEC agenda that for years has been focusing on issues of trade and economic liberalization?   How  proper   will  be   an   emphasis   on cooperation in the areas of power engineering, infrastructure and transport clearly reflecting our national priorities? Is it permissible to put forward projects which, apart from Russia itself, will only be interesting to some, but not all APEC participants? Which is preferable — to take a series of gradual, practicable steps in logistics, customs services, to upgrade the existing communications lines, or to step up the revival of Siberia and the Far East by means of energy, infrastructure and other mega-projects with all the attendant expenses?

Given these and other questions arising in the course of preparation  for the summit, Russia  has come  up with a clear-cut scale of priorities that take into account both its own development interests and the onward going processes in the region as a whole.

Among the key areas  of multilateral  cooperation  in the
Asia-Pacific the following have been singled out.

First, the liberalization of trade and investment, and regional economic integration. Certain steps  in this direction were made under U.S. chairmanship in 2011. Russia is prepared to continue along the same route moving toward free trade and investment in the region. Whereas the Honolulu Summit mostly discussed the current issues of trade liberalization, in Vladivostok it would be logical to focus  on long-term  prospects  of the  APEC economies integration, also taking into consideration the CIS integration initiatives that Russia is implementing, and on issues of averting financial and economic crises in the region and the world. It is the APEC members that account at present for the greater part of global economy and so bear special responsibility for optimizing global mechanisms of economic development regulation.

Another 2012 priority is consolidation of food security. This problem will apparently become one of the principal ones
for the 21st century world politics, and there it is difficult to overestimate the role of the APEC region. Meanwhile, in this area multilateral cooperation by the Asia-Pacific countries is still in rompers. We lack a coordinated regional approach to managing the risks of food security. Clearly, the need  has  long been  overdue  to tackle  such matters  as lessening  food price  volatility,  loss reduction  while transporting agricultural produce  within  the  region, coordination of  national efforts  to  raise  the  yield of agricultural staples. Obviously, food issues are closely related to the environmental problems, and preservation of biodiversity in the APEC region.

Yet another of Russia’s priorities is the regional transport and  logistical potential development.  Owing to its geographical position, Russia is a transit country between Asia and Europe, but in terms of intercontinental transport corridor we could do a  lot more  than  we are doing at present. Here we shall have to do plenty of work within the country, yet the international dimension is every bit as important. Cutting costs and time loss in border crossing, and implementing major infrastructure projects (e.g., modernizing sea- and airports, and transport corridors) in the  private/state  partnership format,  will  certainly  help extend the areas of contact between the RF and its Asian environment.

Finally, the Vladivostok APEC Economic Leaders Meeting is, among other things, also a chance to promote the innovation agenda for Russia and the entire APEC region. How can we ensure the use of the most efficient forms of interaction for science, business and the state in promoting new technologies? How can we raise to a new cooperation level innovation centers, universities, research institutions, R&D  compounds, innovation-active   territories?   How should the  geographical  mobility of people  in  science, education and innovation be increased?  How can the intellectual  property  rights be  securely  protected  in the region, and the turnover of counterfeit products reduced?

What  is  to be  done to harmonize  education  systems? Questions of this kind are becoming increasingly important not only to Russia, but also to our neighbors on the Asian continent.

On the whole, Russia’s invigorated activity in the Asian sector appears timely, especially given the  global development  trends. The shift of the world economic activity center to the Asia-Pacific is an obvious fact, particularly against the  background  of the  distressingly worsening situation in Europe and North America. Further procrastination by Russia in matters of priority development for Siberia and the Far East is impermissible; promptly and productively taking a turn toward Asia is a sine qua non for preserving the country  as an entity that the world actually minds. Along with the growing economic  might of the Asia-Pacific,  its conflict potential is  likewise  on the rise, which dictates both caution and resoluteness in stepping up relations with that region. The 2012 APEC  Summit is to become  a symbolic frontier from which the country will begin accelerated development of its territories adjacent to the dynamic Asia, and derive ever more benefits from its active participation in the regional integration processes.

Source - International Affairs.

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