Russia – Asia-Pacific region: Dialogue of MPs

MOSCOW. (Sergei Mironov, the speaker of the Federation Council of the Russian Federal Assembly)

In the beginning of every year after Christmas holidays, MPs of Asian and Pacific countries meet at an international forum to sum up the results of the previous year, exchange opinions on trends in global and regional development and outline cooperation prospects. On January 22, 2007, they will come to Moscow for their 15th meeting.

The upcoming session of the Asia-Pacific Parliamentary Forum (APPF) is a unique event. For the first time, Moscow will play host to MPs from almost 30 countries, which represent the absolute majority of nations of this vast region stretching from the Bering Strait in the north of the Pacific to Cape Horn in the south of America.

For Russia the decision to take part in the forum was logical and very important. Two thirds of its territory is located in Asia with its considerable resources, industrial, scientific, technical, educational and personnel potential. Enormous reserves of oil, natural gas, coal, non-ferrous metals and hydro-energy resources in Siberia and the Far East are a major factor in determining Russia’s long-term economic development. Back in the 18th century the great Russian scientist Mikhail Lomonosov wrote in his “Notes on Russian History” that “Russia’s might is consolidated and multiplied in the East, which is of limitless help for us.”

For many centuries we have been linked with Asia and the Pacific by common historical destinies, and the interests of ensuring security and resolving social and economic problems. We are taking into account the fact that the rapidly developing Asia-Pacific region is playing an increasing role in the global economy of the multipolar world.

It accounts for about 60% of the world’s production, half of its trade, 48% of foreign investment. Asian and Pacific nations are increasingly becoming the leaders of global advance. They are justifiably called “the region of the 21st century”, and “the locomotive of global economy”. It is in this region that the Russian economy comes into direct contact with the biggest (after the EU) world economies – the United States, China, Japan, India, ASEAN and the rapidly progressing Latin American countries.

Russia’s long-term strategy is to dynamically develop versatile cooperation with Asian and Pacific nations. In this context, I’d like to quote what Russian President Vladimir Putin said last November: ” We realize that Russia can only develop successfully if it takes a most active part in regional integration. Constructive involvement in this process is our strategic choice and a major task for the foreseeable future.”

The decision to hold the 15th APPF session in Moscow was made at the previous forum in Jakarta in January 2006. This fact as such has become a convincing demonstration of the high prestige enjoyed by Russian foreign policy among the growing number of political, parliamentary and business quarters of Asia and the Pacific, and recognition of the constructive contribution of the Russian Federal Assembly into the activities of this young international parliamentary organization, which is quickly gaining political weight.

The session in Moscow will discuss the main aspects of the political and economic situation in the region. We believe that in general it is rather stable. The region’s countries are setting up a whole complex of supplementary agencies aimed at promoting cooperation and regional integration.

Prestigious international institutions, such as the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC), the Association of South East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), to name but a few, have been established in the region. They have turned into new mechanisms of exerting positive influence on the situation, ensuring regional peace, stability and security, deepening regional integration processes and asserting the principles of equitable cooperation in international affairs.

As I said earlier, the economic situation in the Asia-Pacific region is stable. Regional economies have recovered from the recessions of the past. The bulk of the countries have substantially stepped up their GDP growth rates. The financial markets have become more predictable, and the level of savings and investment has gone up. The professionalism of human resources has been growing. Foreign trade has increased, primarily in quality exports. Interregional trade and economic ties are being intensified. Integration is making the most impressive headway in high-tech and financial spheres.

Nevertheless, there are factors which are capable of seriously upsetting the situation, and we are well aware of these. Serious cross border challenges are manifest in international terrorism, ethnic and religious separatism and extremism, organized crime, illegal migration, drug trafficking and arms trade. Territorial and border conflicts are fraught with potential danger.

Formidable threats of economic security are rooted in instability in the world energy markets, and the growing gap between deficit and surplus countries. The unstable development of the global economy and international financial markets, and the uneven domestic levels of many countries in the region are impeding its economic advance.

These processes and trends are generating tensions, which under certain conditions could turn into confrontation, thereby prejudicing regional and even global stability.

In the past decade, Russia has done much for integration into political, economic, and cultural processes, which are rapidly developing in Asia and the Pacific. It has played a major role in promoting cooperation against terrorism and transnational crime, dealing with emergencies, developing energy dialogue, and establishing transcontinental transport, information and communication corridors.

At Vladimir Putin’s initiative, dialogue between cultures and religions has been transferred onto a practical plan. I’m certain that implementation of this initiative will make a tangible contribution to building up mutual trust in Asia and the Pacific. By virtue of its history, geography, and religious and ethnic diversity, Russia has amassed rich experience in inter-ethnic and inter-religious relations. Our MPs are ready to develop dialogue on these problems with their colleagues in the region at the APPF and other forums. I’m confident that this dialogue is the most effective instrument of the moral rebirth of modern society and an indispensable precondition for progress in world affairs.

I’m glad to say that in the past several years, Russia has consistently upgraded the scale and diversification of its trade with the majority of Asian and Pacific nations. In 2006, the latter were Russia’s second biggest trade partners after the EU. On the whole, our trade with these nations has been growing by 20% with every passing year. Private Russian companies are clearly interested in developing and expanding contacts with their partners in the region. This trend is typical for the Russian Far East. Today, the Maritime Territory’s foreign trade largely determines its economic development. This is an objective process. I’m sure that the sooner our business realizes its interests in the region, the faster the cooperation will develop at national level.

At the same time, we see that the current scale and quality of Russia’s trade and economic contacts with Asian and Pacific countries are far below their potentialities. They do not compare with trade between some other countries in the region. We can offer our partners a solution to the problem. We can supply the region with high technologies, goods manufactured by the aerospace and machine-building industries, energy equipment for power plants, including atomic power stations, and military hardware. We can cooperate in geophysics, transportation, and communications. The industrial, scientific and technical potential of Siberia and the Far East is by no means being used in full measure. Our numerous meetings and talks with the representatives of the region’s political and business elites show that regrettably our partners are not well versed in Russia’s economic and industrial potential, which has grown substantially in the last few years. There are many things about which foreign economists and businessmen simply do not know, which makes it difficult to hope for serious success in economic cooperation.

We are ready to offer the region’s political and business elites a whole package of large-scale integration projects, primarily dealing with energy cooperation. This applies to energy cooperation, in particular, the construction of the Eastern Siberia-Pacific oil pipeline and gas pipelines, which are part of the integrated system of gas production, transportation and supply. Other projects include expansion of transport corridors in Russia’s Asia and the Far East, which requires a new stage in the development of the Baikal-Amur Railway and construction of new national highways. Implementation of these projects will upgrade business contacts between the two leading economic centers – the European Union, and Asia and the Pacific.

Naturally, implementation of these large-scale projects will call for huge investment in the development of the technological and social infrastructure in Siberia and the Far East. However, considering the objective interest of Asian and Pacific countries and their business communities in the resolution of these problems, we have every reason to hope for investment by our partners in the region.

Considering the importance of the issue, I would like to dwell on energy cooperation. We are proceeding from the premise that ensuring energy security in the Asia-Pacific region is a comprehensive problem. We cannot ignore the alarming developments in global and regional fuel-and-energy sectors. I am referring to high oil prices, unstable supply of energy carriers and technological difficulties in diversifying energy sources.

Our entire experience convincingly shows that not only Russia needs an economically mobile and politically stable the Asia-Pacific region. There are equal grounds to say that the region also needs a strong and prosperous Russia. Here our interests coincide, and this factor may become a powerful source of progress and prosperity.

I’m talking about this in such detail because the region’s MPs have an important role to play in taking steps towards further integration of Asia and the Pacific. First of all, this applies to the improvement of the contractual and legal foundation of cooperation, harmonization of laws and elaboration of regulations which would ease the tax burden for businesses and encourage healthy competition.

The last few years have seen a substantial growth in the role of parliaments in ensuring peace and stability, freedom and democracy, promoting integration, and resolving international problems. Parliamentary diplomacy has proved to be an effective instrument, which greatly enhances the foreign policy potential, especially in developing political, social, economic and cultural cooperation, and imbuing it with a spirit which is vital for success.

This fully applies to the APPF. I think it plays a unique role in the system of the region’s international parliamentary organizations. This is not the first time I will attend the forum, and I have reasons to say that it is increasingly turning into a major agency, capable of exerting tangible influence on the resolution of the problems facing our region.

On the eve of its 15th session in Moscow, we the Russian MPs consider it our duty to convey gratitude to a prominent politician, and Japan’s former Prime Minister Yasuhiro Nakasone, who made a major contribution to the APPF formation. He did much to implement the idea of the forum that he proclaimed in 1993. MPs from other APPF member countries share this view.

The APPF has traveled a long road since its formation. Its activities are based on the goals and principles of the Tokyo declaration. Guided by them, the APPF is making a considerable contribution to the expansion of international cooperation in the name of peace, democracy, freedom and prosperity in the region. At annual forums, the region’s MPs discuss the most urgent issues related to universal peace and strategic stability, domestic and international security.

They focus on the problems which are most important for the APPF participants, such as promotion of trade and investment, development of regional cooperation in protecting the environment, dealing with natural disasters and emergencies, and expanding exchanges in education, science and culture.

The forum adopts all resolutions by consensus, which guarantees that the interests of all participants will be considered. Some journalists have dubbed it APEC’s “parliamentary dimension.” Indeed, these two forums are largely similar in membership, agenda and institutional principles. The main difference between them is that they represent different branches of power and approach problems from different angles.

Since the APPF formation, the Russian Federal Assembly has been paying priority attention to its work in the forum, contributing to the consolidation of its institutional foundations, and the growth of its prestige and influence. We view our participation in this forum as an effective instrument of Russia’s long-term course towards participation in the processes of integration undergoing in this region. Asia and the Pacific can only achieve integration if the political and business elites of the entire region pool their efforts.

During consultations with our partners, we have agreed to put on the forthcoming session’s agenda the most urgent issues of international policy and security, such as the struggle against terrorism, organized crime and drug trafficking. The forum will also discuss trade and economic cooperation. Our delegation has suggested including into the forum’s agenda the problems pertaining to the region’s energy security. Issues related to the development of dialogue between civilizations and religions will also feature prominently in the debates.

I would like to emphasize that we approach our chairmanship in the APPF with utmost responsibility. Knowing that many delegations will arrive in Moscow from tropical countries with temperatures above30°C, we will provide all participants in the forum with hats with floppy ears, which are good even in Siberian frosts.

As hosts, the Russian MPs will do everything possible for the forthcoming forum to open up a new stage in inter-parliamentary contacts with the APPF. We are certain that there is no alternative to multilateral mechanisms in parrying the global challenges of the 21st century.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and may not necessarily represent those of RIA Novosti.



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