Moscow's development needs make East Asia a vital ingredient of Russian diplomacy

By Cui Heng Source:Global Times Published: 2018/11/15 19:48:41

Russian President Vladimir Putin attended the East Asia Summit (EAS) for the first time, while Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev is going to participate in the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) meeting. The presence of the Russian leaders at the crucial gatherings suggests a stepped-up priority for East Asian countries in Russian diplomacy.

EAS is a result of close interaction and regional integration among East Asian nations. Started in 2005, the EAS has developed into an open, inclusive and transparent forum. The issues discussed at the EAS represent a push for developing East Asian regional cooperation.

Driven by the rapid economic development in Asia-Pacific countries such as China, Japan and South Korea, the focus of international politics and economy has shifted from both sides of the Atlantic to the two flanks of the Pacific since the beginning of the 21st century. The Asia-Pacific region has been playing an increasingly important role in Russian diplomacy, embodying the Kremlin's policy shift to Asia.

Integrating into the Asia-Pacific economic process and participating in the reform of governance in East Asia is of vital significance to Russia.

Interacting with Asia-Pacific countries complements Russian efforts to develop its Far East. The key to Russia's re-emergence lies in effective utilization of resources in the eastern region where development is impossible without cooperation with Asia-Pacific countries in economy, trade, investment, technology and market. Under the pressures of export diversification and the need to develop its Far East, Russia's pivot to the Asia-Pacific region is accelerating.

By ratcheting up integration into the Asia-Pacific economy, Russia will have an important role to play in regional governance, thus allowing the Kremlin to boost its international standing in regional and global affairs. As global power is shifting to Asia, some Asian economies, with diverse development patterns, are collectively emerging. Given fragmented regional governance mechanism, coupled with nuclear risks in the region, East Asian countries are unable to promote regional integration on their own. This provides Russia with opportunities to play a role in East Asia's regional governance, get rid of its marginalized status over the years and expand its efforts to integrate into Asia-Pacific affairs.

Since the beginning of the new century, Russia and ASEAN countries have intensified interactions. There are various reasons behind the close relations.

Above all, through cooperation with ASEAN, Russia intends to maintain its geopolitical influence in Southeast Asia established during the Soviet era. Although Russia withdrew from its Soviet-era naval base in Cam Ranh Bay after the end of the Cold War, it's still a major weapons supplier to countries such as Vietnam and Malaysia. With Western countries continuously trying to erode Russia's geopolitical clout, Southeast Asia becomes one of the few regions where Moscow can exercise its influence.

China, Japan and South Korea currently are main investors in the development of the Far East. Moscow wants a spread-out footprint for foreign investment in its underdeveloped region, hence it seeks to reach out to Southeast Asian countries.

ASEAN is an essential part of the Greater Eurasian Partnership, which was proposed by Putin and includes the pursuit of a new regional pattern and transnational economic and security cooperation. In essence, it is Russia's strategic defense layout in response to economic crisis and diplomatic isolation. Russia would focus on ASEAN countries to seek diplomatic breakthroughs. The cooperation between ASEAN and Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union has made the Greater Eurasian Partnership more achievable and also contributed to Moscow's efforts to increase its influence in the regional integration process.

It can be seen that Putin's presence at the EAS is not impulsive. Putin's choice to attend the EAS instead of the APEC Summit indicates that Russia will attach more significance to East Asia in the future.

The author is a PhD from the Centre for Russian Studies, East China Normal University, and a member of the Innovative Talent program under the Russian School, Dalian University of Foreign Languages. 


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