Russia in Asia and the Pacific

By Georgy Toloraya, CSCAP, Russia

The Asia Pacific is a global region of primary significance. It is imperative that Russia grasps this fact, and lays out a comprehensive vision for its role in the region.  If Russia can do this, it can greatly advance the cause of developing effective arrangements in the region.

What are the key elements of the economic, political and security situation in the Asia-Pacific region?

The region (including North America) accounts for the largest portion of world output. And globalisation has intensified economic interdependence and forced a convergence of states’ interests, which has in turn led to increased regional stability.

Although the Asia-Pacific remains economically heterogeneous, it weathered the global financial crisis better than other parts of the world.

The Asia-Pacific is diverse politically. Yet most nations have synthesised certain democratic principles drawn primarily from the Anglo-American tradition with their own particular political culture. For example, the Westminster parliamentary model coexists with the caste system in India, while in Sri Lanka the Buddhist state coexists with democracy.

The Asia-Pacific is also a region with several potential flashpoints for conflict.  Defence spending within the region has grown, and so too has the military maneuvering associated with it. The Korean peninsula continues to be a source of instability, and the Afghan war is a constant threat hanging over South Asia.  And the threat of bi-polar conflict between the US and China is palpable.

Russia is not often seen as a Euro-Pacific country.  But both geographically and culturally, it can potentially act as a bridge between the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

If Russia acts as an Asia-Pacific country and engages with existing Asia-Pacific regional organisations, a number of strategic benefits will result.

Consider the problem of regional organisations.

The Asia-Pacific plays host to a number of regional forums.  ASEAN, ASEAN+3, APEC, and, to a lesser extent, ASEAN+6, are all organisations designed to foster regional cooperation.  But for the most part, these organisations deal in economic integration.  They do not deal with security imperatives. And these organisations can hardly be called a fully-fledged regional architecture. Rather, the region has a plethora of multi-member institutions at different stages of development, divided and heterogeneous by nature, objectives and composition.

What can Russia offer?

For a start, it can offer the Asia-Pacific region a more complete concept of regional architecture and Russia’s role in it, developed around its Chairmanship of the APEC summit in Vladivostock in 2012.  If Russia takes the initiative then, it might contribute to tidying up the currently untidiness in regional architecture.

Russia’s proposal could involve all of the Asia-Pacific states, use existing and network diplomacy as organisational groundwork, helping to lay the foundation for the creation of a regional community. In addition, the current security framework, which places the US as putative head of the region, is not working.  By virtue of its position as a large, non-aligned Asian nation, Russia’s vision can attempt to lay the foundations for a more inclusive, Asia-based security framework.

Almost half of the G20 are Asia-Pacific countries: Australia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United States and Mexico.  As a member of the G20, Russia can use this increasingly prominent organisation to propel any discussion of a new Asia-Pacific regional model.

A Russian model for an Asian security community will also have the advantage of focusing in upon the neighbouring region of Northeast Asia. This region has no effective security or stability mechanisms. This needs to be remedied. Russia has repeatedly raised the question of defining a cooperative agenda for Northeast Asia. The agenda for this could cover a broad range of issues – from the economy, energy and the environment to disarmament, terrorism, and confidence-building measures. The dialogue, particularly if it involved the G20, could also use six-party talks as a basis for ensuring peace and development in Northeast Asia.

What must Russia do in order to lay the foundation for this Asia-Pacific regional vision?

Primarily, Russia first must meet its domestic obligations. In particular, Russia must focus upon developing the Far East. In more specific terms, the Far East of Russia has a comparative advantage in natural resources. In the Urals region and Russia’s eastern-most provinces, investors, including foreign investors, should be offered preferential investment terms and free economic zones.

In addition, Russia must deal individually with China, Japan, and the Korean peninsula. The growing imbalance between Russia and China means that Russia has no alternative to pursuing a policy of friendship, further dialogue, and joint economic development. But Russia should be prudent. It must remember its own interests and create a partnership with China.

In dealing with Japan, Russia might conclude a ‘Treaty on Peace, Friendship, Cooperation and Security’ (rather than an out-of-date ‘Peace Treaty’) which would determine the basics and principles of relations in this century. Ideally, this would solve the problem of border demarcation. Russia should also attempt to promote further foreign investment in the Kurile islands.

And in dealing with Korean Peninsula, Russia should be measured. It is more realistic to strive toward the freezing of North’s Korea’s nuclear missile potential than towards its immediate denuclearisation. Fundamentally, the key to strengthening Russia’s position on the Korean Peninsula is the maintenance of a continuous dialogue with the North Korean leadership with a view to positive evolution of the regime.

By virtue of its position as a bridge between Europe and Asia, Russia has the geo-strategic keys to the Asia Pacific region.  Provided that it acts in a measured and realistic way, Russia can make a valuable contribution to regional stability by articulating a comprehensive vision for Asia-Pacific regionalism.

Georgy Toroloya is vice president of the Russia Mir Foundation and has recently been a visiting fellow at the Brookings Institution. Dr Toloraya has previously served as the Russian Consul-General in Australia and served the Russian Foreign Ministry in Pyongyang and Seoul.

This paper is a digest of a report prepared by CSCAP, Russia, under the direction of Vyacheslav Nikonov, president of CSCAP, Russia, and edited by Georgy Toroloya.



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