The ASEAN – Russia Summit that will celebrate the 20th anniversary of the partnership between Russia and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations will be held in Sochi on 19–20 May.
According to the Executive Director of Russia – ASEAN Business Council Victor Tarusin, the Summit program will include three parallel sessions: “Economic Integration and Enhanced Interconnectivity,” “Energy and Resources for Development,” and “Innovation and ICT for growth.”
As expected, during the forum the business leaders and representatives of political and expert communities from Russia and the ASEAN countries will discuss key issues of trade and economic, technological and investment cooperation, as well current issues of economic development in Russia and the ASEAN nations.
Earlier, Russian President Vladimir Putin proposed starting consultations with members of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the ASEAN on a possible economic partnership.
“Such an alliance would boost Russian exports to the Asia-Pacific region; this includes food, energy, engineering, educational, medical and tourist services. It will allow us to play a leading role in the formation of new technological markets, and will also bring global trade flows to Russia,” he said stressing that the partnership should be based on the principles of equality and mutual interest.
Commenting on the upcoming event, Bunn Nagara, Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy and Security Studies, Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) in Malaysia, noted that the capital of Winter Olympic Games 2014 is the most suitable city for such a meeting.
“Sochi as a resort is a good place [for the Summit] since it will be a beautiful location that is relaxing, without the political pressures of the capital, Moscow,” he told PenzaNews.
The analyst said he hopes that the Summit will go well and serve the interests of all its participants.
“There should be more dialogue among nations in today’s world, so that there can be better cooperation and understanding. Among the best ways to improve international relations is to increase mutual trade and investments, technology transfers in various sectors, educational exchanges and people-to-people contact through tourism. In today’s violent world, another area of cooperation is security such as fighting terrorism. This is the other important area that the Sochi Summit should also consider,” the expert said.
According to him, it would be useful for the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) to listen to some of ASEAN’s experiences and learn from its nearly 50-year history.
“The Summit could also contribute ideas to China’s recent proposals for a One Belt One Road and the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank which involve all countries in ASEAN, the SCO and the EAEU,” Bunn Nagara added.
Meanwhile, the expert stressed that there is no common foreign policy in ASEAN for all the member countries.
“The purpose for any independent country or region would be to maintain its sovereignty while building friendships and partnerships with all others for mutual benefit,” he said.
Baoyun Yang, Pridi Banomyong International College, Thammasat University, Thailand, stressed that Russia and ASEAN countries are both showing the willingness to establish the closer cooperation.
“In recent years as Russia has turned its strategic direction to the Asia Pacific region. So Russia is willing to take the occasion of commemorating the 20th anniversary of the establishment of the dialogue partnership with ASEAN to host the summit for enhancing further its cooperation with ASEAN in various fields. On August 2015, Russia and ASEAN have jointly implemented more than 50 Russian investment projects through the agreements including energy and machine manufacturing, information and communication technology, innovation, transportation and logistics, medicine and agriculture. A bilateral working group was established, responsible for priority investment projects with some ASEAN countries. There are 500 Russian and ASEAN enterprises to participate in the business forum during the Summit ,” the analyst said.
In his opinion, strengthening its cooperation with ASEAN is matched with Russia’s conception of the creation of the Eurasian Economic Union and is also one of the measures to deal with the international and economic problems.
“On the Summit the establishment of framework of cooperative principle and direction for strengthening the Russian ASEAN dialogue partnership will be announced, but the main task of the Summit is to strengthen the economic cooperation between Russia and ASEAN. The two sides could reach the mutually beneficial agreements during the Russian ASEAN summit in the areas such as traditional and renewable energy sectors, emergency field, food safety and agriculture,” Baoyun Yang noted.
He also added that Russia and some ASEAN member countries will announce during the summit the launch of the FTA creation work.
In turn, Thomas Daniel, Analyst at the Institute of Strategic and International Studies (ISIS) in Malaysia, reminded that Moscow is one of ASEAN’s oldest dialogue partners.
“Traditionally, the focus of relations has been mutual issues of interest in the political and security field. More recently however, this has expanded to include joint economic interests and a growing socio-cultural aspect to the relationship, especially in science and technology, the energy sector, the development of small and medium industries, tourism and human resource development. This is important for ASEAN as the organization is now embarking on the ASEAN Community which encapsulates the focus of the regional organization into three pillars – political-security, economic and socio-cultural,” the expert said.
According to him, the ASEAN Community is significantly different from the European Union model.
“The ASEAN Community is part of the strategic move by ASEAN leaders to get Southeast Asian countries to stay on the collective path of peaceful and sustainable development and make the organization attractive as a viable political and economic partner for external powers interested in the region,” Thomas Daniel noted.
He also stressed that ASEAN remains an inter-government body, distinct from the EU’s supra-national construct, and suggests consensus-based decision-making at a pace comfortable to all, with non-interference in domestic affairs and flexibility in implementing collective agreements as guiding principles.
“ASEAN likes to be friends with everyone. When it comes to questions about ASEAN and ‘world orders’, whether they are ‘Western’ or ‘Eastern,’ ASEAN is determined to preserve its neutrality, centrality and contribute to the betterment of the region and wider global community. ASEAN can help shape and evolve the larger regional architecture in the Asia-Pacific. It is in the best position to carry out this task – with its dialogue partners, ASEAN is already the hub of the region’s key diplomatic processes,” the analyst added.
From his point of view, ASEAN must continue to ensure that dynamic shifts in power relations do not lead to strategic tension but rather result in a dynamic equilibrium, and to a state of regional affairs marked not by geostrategic clash but by growing confluence.
Meanwhile, Lak Chansok, Lecturer at the Department of International Studies, Institute of Foreign Languages, Royal University of Phnom Penh, Research Fellow at Cambodian Institute for Cooperation and Peace, said there are a lot of narratives about ASEAN divided into pro-US and pro-China camps.
“Thailand and the Philippines are US’s age-old security allies. Indonesia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Brunei are considered US’s good economic and strategic partners. Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos are believed to side with China due to territorial proximity and China’s ‘charm offensive’ or its soft power in those countries. Therefore, it is deemed challenging for Russia to influence or convince the ASEAN countries to support Russia regionally and internationally. Russian politicians should learn from China’s ‘soft power’ and expand this sort of power and its cultural influence in the region,” the expert said.
However, according to him, Russia remains an important partner for ASEAN.
“It is due to its huge territory; nuclear arsenal and powerful armed force, its modern technology, defense industry, missile capacities; permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council; rich natural resources; and Russian operational aircraft carriers. Moreover, for ASEAN, Russia is still playing an important role to bridge Europe and the Pacific,” the analyst explained.
In his opinion, the upcoming summit will focus on wide-ranging issues among which economic and political-security cooperation will be deemed more important for the whole summit.
“ASEAN is an existing and emerging potential market – consisting of more than 600 million people – for Russia to expand its trade and investment activities. Politically and strategically, Russia needs and wants to join hands with ASEAN countries to build a complete, cooperative and equal security structure in the region,” Lak Chansok said.
Besides the above mentioned issues, in his opinion, Russia and ASEAN will also focus on socio-cultural cooperation, which could include promoting cultural awareness to deepen Russia-ASEAN mutual understanding, strengthening joint activities to promote science and technology, energy security, SMEs, tourism, and human resource development to enhance Russia-ASEAN people-to-people connectivity, and promoting other cooperative activities on pandemic diseases, natural resource sustainability, environmental protection, education, and especially ASEAN-Russia infrastructure connectivity through the Initiative for ASEAN Integration (IAI).
“From realist perspective, the rise of China economically and militarily and the US’s Pivot to Asia or ‘Rebalancing Strategy’ in Asia and the Pacific are threats to Russia’s security and economy. So, ASEAN and ASEAN-led multilateralism can help maintain the balance of powers as well as minimize the level of fear, anxiety and suspicion especially among the major powers in the region,” the expert added.
In turn, Paul Chambers, Director of Research, Institute of Southeast Asian Affairs in Chiangmai University, Thailand, said these talks will be extremely important.
“They represent the first time that President Vladimir Putin has met with all the leaders of countries of ASEAN together. Russia has the opportunity now to entice ASEAN to join in a special dialogue with Russia, to move Russia closer to ASEAN,” the analyst said.
According to him, Russia is interested in discussing issues such as imports and export markets.
“In addition there are several raw materials from Russia and ASEAN that could be increasingly traded. In relation to that, the Eurasian Economic Union’s proposed free trade agreement with Vietnam could be extended to other members of ASEAN or all of ASEAN,” the expert said.
Moreover, he pointed to the strengthening of political cooperation between Moscow and the Association.
“Thailand would like to pivot closer to Russia, offsetting past reliance on the United States prior to the 2014 coup, and also because the Thais do not want to overly rely on China. Vietnam and Laos already have close relations with Russia but, in particular, Vietnam wants a closer relationship with Moscow,” Paul Chambers noted.
“The more Russia tries to work with, trade with, and invest in ASEAN, the more ASEAN countries will warm up to Russia in terms of welcoming Russian influence – both political and economic. In this way, Russia and ASEAN can work together to prevent a possible Western World Order from economically and politically coming to dominate them,” the analyst concluded.
Dialogue ASEAN – Russia was launched in July 1991 when Russian representatives where invited by the Malaysian Government to attend an ASEAN Ministerial Meeting.
Russia was subsequently elevated to a full Dialogue Partner of ASEAN in July 1996 at the 29th ASEAN Ministerial Meeting in Jakarta.
Russia joined the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (1976) on 29 November 2004. This document serves as a political declaration on the norms and principles of relations among countries in the region and contains the obligation that the contracting parties are not to participate in any manner or form in any activity which may constitute a threat to the political and economic stability of another contracting party.
In 2014, the ASEAN – Russia trade turnover reached 22.5 billion US dollars, while Russia’s foreign direct investment in the region came in at 698 million US dollars in 2012–2014.
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