Abstract. The author analyzes different eras of the partnership between Russia and the influential regional grouping of ASEAN over the last 20 years. ASEAN’s leading role in laying the foundations for peace and security in Southeast Asia and the Asia-Pacific Region as a whole is demonstrated, along with the strategic, political, and economic importance to Russia of strengthening partnership with this organization in all areas.
The role of the Asia-Pacific Region (APR) in world politics and economics is steadily growing. Even under the conditions of the global financial and economic crisis, rapid growth is being seen in most economies, while the processes of integration not only continue but are accelerating. Political scientists and researchers around the world today unanimously believe that this region represents the future. It is there that a new global economic powerhouse is taking shape and the world’s most rapidly developing nations are located. The APR’s share of the world’s gross product is growing swiftly and, according to forecasts by international experts, could reach 45%-50% by the year 2025.
After the disintegration of the Soviet Union, the leaders of the new Russia oriented the country’s foreign policy toward the West without the slightest justification. They saw the United States and Western Europe as their main political and ideological allies, most important donors, and models for the socioeconomic development of Russia. However, life has shown that this was no more than an illusion. As was clear as far back as the 18th and 19th centuries (i.e., even before the October 1917 Revolution), America and Western Europe were hostile toward Russia. In the 20th century, they fought not so much against Soviet power (as it seemed to many) as against Russia, a powerful Orthodox state. We should, therefore, never regret that after Vladimir Putin was elected president, Moscow made the only logical and rational move and oriented itself toward the APR.
Russia’s political elite finally recognized what had been obvious from the start: Historically, the country is bound inseparably to the APR and has vitally important political and economic interests in the region – two-thirds of its territory lies in Asia. In addition, it became clear that it could receive the credits and state-of-the-art technologies it needed in the APR, and not just from the U.S.A. and Europe. It was logically concluded that the modernization of Russia’s backward eastern regions and store of natural resources would be impossible without the participation of its Asian neighbors. As a result, the Asia-Pacific vector became one of the main lines of Russia’s foreign policy. The APR is acquiring primary importance for Russia today, since the West has begun leveling harsh economic sanctions against Moscow following the tragic events in Ukraine. Thanks to the mutually beneficial cooperation between Russia and China, a powerful regional grouping emerged in East Asia in 2001: the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Along with the populations of observer nations, those of the SCO countries today number more than three billion. The SCO’s strategic potential comes from its four nuclear powers: Russia and China (de jure) and India and Pakistan (de facto).1
No less a core of integration in the APR is the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). This rapidly developing subregional political and economic organization has in recent years become a highly respected body not only in East Asia but around the world.
In its founding Declaration of 1967, ASEAN defined itself as “a regional association” that would resolve issues primarily in the socioeconomic sphere. In reality, however, the problem of ensuring peace and stability in Southeast Asia took priority in ASEAN’s affairs from the moment of its creation, and particularly after Vietnam joined in 1995 and the number of member states continued to grow.
Judging from the regional tasks ASEAN performs today and how it has positioned itself in the international arena, it may legitimately be viewed as a “collective power” made up of ten East Asian countries with a total population of more than 650 million.
ASEAN plays an increasingly important role as a factor of peace and security not only in Southeast Asia but in the APR as a whole. ASEAN’s desire to establish working relationships with other regional associations in the APR, and with the SCO in particular is, therefore, entirely natural.
During the January 2007 East Asia Summit (EAS) in the city of Cebu, the Philippines launched an initiative to establish close relations with the SCO. Following Russia’s proposal, ASEAN and the SCO then signed a protocol on cooperation in which both parties expressed their support for developing relations between the two organizations overtime.2 Under current conditions, Russia’s relations with all members of ASEAN (and not just China, Japan, and South Korea, which have expressed their readiness to invest in projects beneficial to them) are acquiring even greater importance, now that Moscow has made the long-awaited decision to move ahead with the accelerated development of the country’s Far Eastern regions. This is the reason for Russian diplomacy’s growing interest in this unique strategic regional grouping.
Russia’s relations with ASEAN became of practical importance with theending of the Cold War and the era of bipolar confrontation. In 1991, a Soviet guest delegation was invited to attend the 24th ASEAN Foreign Ministers Meeting for the first time in the history of the Association. Relations of a consultative partnership were established between Russia and ASEAN in 1994, and a de facto bilateral dialogue had by then already begun. Russia finally became a full-fledged ASEAN partner in 1996, thereby laying the groundwork for a statutory and regulatory base and creating a multilateral mechanism for the Russia-ASEAN partnership. In 2004, Russia joined the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC), which had for more than three decades dictated the fundamental principles of ensuring peace and stability in the region. Russia also went on record as favoring ASEAN’s efforts to create a nuclear weapon-free zone in Southeast Asia, seeing it as a genuine contribution to a stronger nuclear nonproliferation regime that would help ensure regional and global security. In the opinion of Vietnamese experts, “Russia, being a nuclear power and a permanent member of the UN Security Council, signed the TAC after China had done so to reaffirm the treaty’s role as the recognized code of conduct for relations among the countries of the region.”3 The year 2005 turned out to be especially laden with events in the development of bilateral relations between Russia and the ASEAN countries and the further expansion of Russian participation in the organization’s activities. A number of major (and in some cases innovative) steps were taken to promote the general line of strengthening Russia’s authority and importance in regional affairs and extending its participation in ever accelerating integrational processes.
Of special importance was the first Russia-ASEAN Summit, held on December 13, 2005 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. It was here that the fundamental document controlling all aspects of relations between Russia and ASEAN, the Joint Declaration of the Head of the Russian Federation and the Heads of State and Government of the Countries of Southeast Asia on Progressive and Comprehensive Partnership, was adopted. The stated main goal of the declaration was to ensure “the economic growth, sustainable development, and social progress of the Russian Federation and ASEAN, based on the principles of equality, mutual benefit, and shared responsibility; and to promote peace, stability, security, and prosperity in the Asia-Pacific Region.”4 At the same time, the summit’s participants adopted the 2005-2015 Comprehensive Program of Action to Promote Cooperation, which fixed the content and parameters of partnership. A separate section of the program was devoted to the problems of increasing cooperation in the economic sphere, including commerce and investment, industry, energy, transportation, finances, small and medium-sized businesses, science and technology, and informational and communication technologies. Much attention was given in the program to cooperation in warning against and mitigating the consequences of natural disasters, in the wise use of natural resources, and in environmental protection and restoration. The document also reaffirmed the agreement on expanding cooperation in the spheres of culture, information, tourism, sports, food processing, and agriculture and forestry.5
Of key importance was the agreement reached in Kuala Lumpur on holding regular Russia-ASEAN summits at least once every two to three years, and eventually on an annual basis; unfortunately, as so often happens, this has not come to pass. An agreement was reached on developing the organizational aspects and content of a second Russia-ASEAN Summit only in April 2009, at a meeting of deputy foreign ministers held in Manila.
The Second Russia-ASEAN Summit was held in Hanoi on October 30, 2010 and was yet another important stage in developing relations of a dialogue partnership between Russia and the member countries of the Association. The summit demonstrated the desire shared by the leaders of Russia and the ASEAN countries to expand cooperation in the future. It opened up new possibilities for improving collaboration in priority areas of our nations’ modernization and innovative development, and in strengthening peace, security, and stability of Southeast Asia and the APR. The Second Russia-ASEAN Summit (for which Vietnam, as the chair of the organization, did a great deal to prepare and successfully host) confirmed that the Russia-Vietnam strategic partnership is increasingly becoming a key factor in reinforcing the positive trends that are gathering force in Southeast Asia and the APR. If the First Russia-ASEAN Summit opened a new era of energetic multilevel dialogue on a wide variety of problems in multilateral and bilateral formats, the Second Summit, held in Hanoi, raised cooperation between Russia and ASEAN to a qualitatively new level.
Of key importance in developing the dialogue partnership between Russia and the ASEAN countries are the annual meetings of both parties’ foreign ministers in the ASEAN + 1 format and meetings between the dialogue partners. As a rule, a considerable number of ministries and agencies are involved in preparing for such meetings, as are business circles; this allows meaningful negotiations aimed at implementing the agreements reached in the first two Russia-ASEAN summits. Russia and ASEAN are united by common positions on most pressing international problems, as is confirmed by the more than 15 years of Russian participation in the work of the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) on peace and security.
The ASEAN countries need an economically and politically strong Russia primarily because it is following a constructive policy oriented toward respect and equal benefits for all in the area of security, rather than toward unilateral advantage. Such a policy is badly needed today in the broad, troubled region where ASEAN is already used to maneuvering within the U.S.-PRC-Japan triangle, and many of its members are not against adding a fourth corner in the form of Russia. In the opinion of Vietnamese experts, “Cooperation between Russia and ASEAN in many areas is an important factor in strengthening stability and prosperity in the APR. Russia considers ASEAN to be the core of integration in the APR and expanding cooperation with ASEAN is a priority task. Recognizing Russia’s constructive and increasingly important role in world affairs, the ASEAN countries welcome its wider participation in the processes of Asian integration and in resolving important issues in the region.”6
Russia’s positions are strengthened by its having an important ally among the ASEAN countries – Vietnam, which is now one of the organization’s leading members. Guaranteeing peace and security in Southeast Asia and in the APR as a whole is inarguably an important factor in the current era of Russian-Vietnamese relations. Their international significance has grown particularly since the 2001 signing of an historic bilateral document, the Joint Declaration of Strategic Partnership between the Russian Federation and the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. It is important to note that Russia became the first country with which Vietnam established relations of a fundamentally new format in Vietnam’s foreign policy practice – those of strategic partnership. At the same time, Vietnam today is the only country in Southeast Asia with which Russia has established and continues to develop relations of strategic partnership. Russia and Vietnam complement each other perfectly in many important aspects of their national interests. In the opinion of Vietnamese experts, their fellow countrymen see Russia primarily as a friendly country from outside the region that has not only maintained but continues to develop enormous political, economic, and military potential, and could be useful for balancing Vietnam’s relations with other world powers and political and economic centers.
From the point of view of Russia’s academic and political science communities, Vietnam is a strong, rapidly developing country that is friendly to Moscow and is one of the leading members of ASEAN, an influential regional association. In the Russia’s Foreign Policy Concept approved by President V. Putin, Vietnam is referred to (along with China and India) as one of Russia’s most important strategic partners in Asia.
Although establishing relations of strategic partnership between the two countries is aimed basically at more effective development of bilateral relations in the fields of politics, economics, military technology, science, education, and culture, both sides consider matters of security in Southeast Asia and the APR to be of great importance. Point XIV of the Declaration of Strategic Partnership states “The parties attach exceptionally great importance to matters of ensuring security and building trust in the Asia-Pacific Region.”7 In addition, recognizing the growing international respect for ASEAN as a strategic regional association and Vietnam’s major role in the development and growth of that organization, Russia proposes including the following key text in the Declaration: “Russia attaches great importance to relations with ASEAN and the decisiveness shown in developing multilateral cooperation with ASEAN on the basis of equality, mutual benefit, and working to strengthen peace and stability in Southeast Asia.”8 Russia’s fundamental position was reaffirmed in the Joint Declaration on the results of President Putin’s visit to Vietnam in November 2006: “In the spirit of relations of friendship and cooperation, Russia and Vietnam expressed their firm resolve to further strengthen cooperation within the ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Partnership and through the channels of the SCO’s contacts with ASEAN, and to strive to render mutual assistance in the multilateral structures now operating and taking shape in the Asia-Pacific Region.”9
Comprehensive cooperation between Russia and Vietnam in the foreign policy sphere corresponds to the national interests of both countries, helps ensure favorable conditions abroad for them to solve problems of wide scale modernization and sustainable development, and is serving to create a universal balanced architecture of common and inviolable security, along with political solutions to many contentious problems of the world community. Such cooperation is working reliably to strengthen Russia and Vietnam’s authority and influence in Southeast Asia and the APR. Recognizing the “special relationship between Russia and Vietnam,” ASEAN’s Secretariat requested in 1996 that Hanoi assume the role of coordinating the organization’s relations with Russia. Vietnam did so with distinction, even though that period was a difficult one for Russia: there was no stability in the country, the economy was in a deep crisis, and money was very short. Naturally, the development of productive relations and a dialogue partnership with ASEAN was greatly hindered under these circumstances. Vietnamese personnel serving in ASEAN’s technical organizations were glad to help Russian representatives come to grips with the complicated mechanisms of dialogue with the Association.
Vietnam then began conducting sessions of the Joint Cooperation Committee between Russia and ASEAN and proposed concrete measures to ease Russia’s burden, earning high marks from the Association’s community. It was in 1996 that Russia was conferred the status of a full-fledged ASEAN dialogue partner, laying the groundwork for a comprehensive mechanism of dialogue partnership between Russia and the Association.
Russia and Vietnam now conduct an ongoing, multilevel dialogue on a wide range of problems associated with the situation in Southeast Asia and the APR, and on matters of ASEAN’s political and economic integration. It should be noted that the growing Russia-Vietnam Strategic Partnership is itself a factor helping to drive the Russia-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership, while Vietnam’s increasingly active participation in regional integration processes is being accompanied by stronger ties between Russia and the ASEAN countries. It is also clear that Vietnam is taking advantage of its great authority inside ASEAN to help Russia be included in the East Asia Summit (EAS) as a full-fledged participant.
Russia is interested in a strong and prosperous Vietnam. It is apparent that Vietnam is in turn interested in cultivating the full potential of its strategic partnership with Russia. Visiting Moscow in July 2012, SRV President Trương TấnSang stated that “Strengthening and developing relations of our traditional friendship and full strategic partnership with the Russian Federation is one of the most important priorities of Vietnam’s foreign policy.”10 During their negotiations, the presidents of Russia and Vietnam agreed to cooperate in fully supporting ASEAN’s leading role in regional processes and its initiative in strengthening peace, security, and regional economic integration in Southeast Asia. In an interview with Rossiyskaya gazeta, Trương Tân Sang was very emotional in saying “I clearly see a bright future for relations between ASEAN and Russia….Vietnam and the other members of ASEAN all heartily welcome further cooperation with Russia. Its increased role and stronger position are of great importance to ASEAN.”11
From the very beginning, Russia actively supported ASEAN’s initiative to create its own regional forum (the ARF) on matters of peace and security, viewing it as one of the most important mechanisms of dialogue on a wide range of issues in consolidating security in the APR, and as an instrument for promoting the concept of a multipolar world in strengthening the central coordinating role of the United Nations and ensuring the supremacy of international law. Russia and Vietnam have cochaired the mechanism of the ARF intersession meetings on cooperation in dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters and emergency situations. Unfortunately, as in relationships with many rapidly developing Asian countries, trade and economic cooperation, the volumes of which lag far behind the current level of political relations, remain the weakest link in Russia’s relations with ASEAN.
ASEAN is an enormous integrated market. The Association’s combined population totals more than 650 million, and its overall GDP is greater than $2.3 trillion. According to forecasts by international experts, ASEAN could be a virtually unified economic area by 2015. There is, of course, a positive trend here: the volume of mutual trade turnover between Russia and ASEAN has grown steadily since the beginning of the 21st century, and reached $17.5 billion in 2013. Nevertheless, this is an exceedingly modest figure not at all comparable to, e.g., the volume of trade between the ASEAN countries and China ($443 billion in 2013). It is clear that there were certain positive shifts in economic and trade cooperation between Russia and ASEAN at the start of the 21st century, thanks to the successful development of their dialogue partnership.
The basis for cooperation in this area was the road map approved by the economic ministries of Russia and the ASEAN countries in October 2012. Negotiations have begun on creating an Investment Support Fund with the participation of the Russian Direct Investment Fund and ASEAN’s Infrastructure Fund. This could substantially improve the position of Russian business and allow foreign economic relations with ASEAN to move seriously from words to deeds. Most important, it would open up the possibility of implementing major joint investment projects both in the ASEAN countries and on the territory of the Russian Federation. Russia’s possibilities in the area of energy offer the greatest prospects for economic cooperation between Moscow and ASEAN. Russian energy companies have wide experience in operating on the markets of Southeast Asia. For many years, the Soviet Union cooperated in many ways to create Vietnam’s fuel and energy complex, the foundation of its current economy. Modern hydro- and thermoelectric power stations and power transmission lines were built in Vietnam with technical and economic assistance from Moscow, and work began on creating a national energy grid. At present, Russia is actively involved in implementing the SRV government’s ten-year plan for the development of the entire electrical power industry. The combined capacity of all hydro- and thermo electric power stations should reach 330 billion kWt by 2020, as opposed to the 100 billion kWt of 2010.12
In recent years, Russia and Vietnam have combined forces for jointly entering the energy markets of third countries.
Russia has unique economic and political opportunities for cooperating with the ASEAN countries in solving problems of energy security; these could become the main topic of discussion during the ongoing ASEAN-Russia energy dialogue, due largely to the predominantly favorable attitude toward and trust in Russia in the public opinion of most ASEAN countries. This is true not only for Vietnam and Laos, where strong feelings of gratitude are still harbored for the assistance rendered to the people of these countries in their struggle for national liberation and independence, and where hundreds of factories built with the help of the Soviet Union continue to operate.
Two years ago, an important event occurred that could provide a long-awaited powerful impetus for the development of trade and economic cooperation between the two parties. The Russia-ASEAN Business Council’s concept of development was approved at the RF Chamber of Commerce and Industry in June 2012. The Business Council was mainly concerned with supporting commercial cooperation and encouraging humanitarian contacts between Russia and the ASEAN countries. The Business Council coordinates its efforts with specialized departments in the RF Foreign Ministry and the Ministry of Economic Development. It cooperates closely with Russian International Affairs Council, the ASEAN Center at the Moscow MGIMO University, the embassies of the ASEAN countries in Moscow, and the Russian embassies in the ASEAN countries.
According to information from the secretariat of the Russia-ASEAN Business Council, it has worked incessantly in the fields of economics, investment, technology, culture, and politics in the years since its creation, and has succeeded inorganizing direct contacts between businessmen of both sides, monitoring the economic condition of the ASEAN countries, creating a database that includes investment projects, and announced an initiative to hold thematic events on both the bilateral and regional levels. One such event, the ASEAN-Russia Business Forum of June 22, 2013, was held as part of the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF). Taking part in the forum were more than 200 government officials and representatives of large and medium-sized businesses from 16 countries worldwide, including nearly all ASEAN members (Brunei, Indonesia, Laos, Singapore, Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, and the Philippines).13
A number of important events in the development of the Russia-ASEAN partnership also took place in 2014. On March 24, 2014, a Russian business mission visited the ASEAN Secretariat, where Aleksey Likhachyov, RF Deputy Minister for Economic Development, met with Lim Hong Hin, Deputy Secretary General of ASEAN for ASEAN Economic Community. Opening the meeting, A. Likhachyov noted that Russia and ASEAN are cooperating closely in implementing the Russia-ASEAN road map. The Russia-ASEAN Business Council has also been successful in maintaining the business interests of both parties. “In recent years,” A. Likhachyov said in particular, “it has become clear that cooperation within the Russia-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership needs to enter a new stage. The road map should become a list of specific projects.” Having agreed with his Russian counterpart that the figures could be much higher, Lim Hong Hin stated that the countries of the region were still very interested in high-tech Russian products, pharmaceuticals, and power stations.14
Finally, RF Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with ASEAN Secretary General Le Luong Minh on July 1, 2014, while Le was in Moscow on a working visit. The two exchanged views on ways of giving meaningful, practical content to the Russia-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership and creating the conditions for holding the next ASEAN-Russian Federation Summit. Mutual interest was expressed in expanding political contacts and strengthening economic, scientific, and cultural ties between the Russian Federation and ASEAN. In discussing the international situation, primary attention was given to the prospects for creating a new system of intergovernmental relations in the APR in order to enhance security and sustainable development of the region’s economies. In further meetings between the ASEAN Secretary General and representatives of Russia’s Foreign Ministry, business community, and academic circles (the entire staff of the Center for Vietnam and ASEAN Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences’ Institute for Far Eastern Studies took part in a meeting at the Moscow State Institute for International Relations (MGIMO University’s) ASEAN Center), the prospects for improving Russia-ASEAN collaboration in preparing a new Comprehensive Program of Action to Promote Cooperation between ASEAN and Russia for the years after 2015 were discussed in detail.
Special emphasis was laid on steps to expand the dialogue on political and security issues, along with practical cooperation in economics, responding to emergency situations, science, technology, culture, and tourism. In addition, mutually beneficial talks were held between Eurasian Economic Commission Collegium Chairman Victor Khristenko and SCO Secretary General Dmitry Mezentsev, during which prospects for initiating cooperation between ASEAN and these multifaceted organizations were discussed.15
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Which trends will dominate in the APR in coming decades depends largely on how relations between Russia and ASEAN develop. It is important that there be no political disagreements or conflicts between the two sides.
Russia unshakably and consistently supports ASEAN’s efforts to transform Southeast Asia into “a region of durable peace, stability, and sustainable economic development,” as is written in the ASEAN Charter adopted in 2008. The positions of Russia and ASEAN strongly coincide on all major issues of world development. The political elites of the ASEAN countries understand that Russia, as a great world and Asian power with enormous military potential, and as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, was and still is a vital factor in maintaining peace and stability in the region. It can and should play an important role in shaping the future security system in the APR in general and in Southeast Asia in particular, both as an active participant and as a reliable guarantor of consensus.
Compared to other great powers, Russia holds important moral and political advantages in its relations with ASEAN. There have never been any serious (or moreover, armed) conflicts between Moscow and the ASEAN countries. Since the end of the Cold War, Russia has never interfered in the internal affairs of these countries, particularly in such sensitive matters as human rights, democratic freedoms, and territorial or interfaith conflicts. These advantages give Russia what is called “soft power.” It is important that this power only be used effectively and for specific purposes. Russia’s foreign policy in the APR is aimed at gradually enacting the provisions of the ASEAN-Russia Joint Declaration adopted at their Second Summit in Hanoi: “We believe that international security is vital to all, and are convinced that national security cannot be ensured by impairing the security of others. We stress the need to fully consider and honor the legitimate interests and concerns of all nations, along with their current laws and regulations.”16
- S.G. Luzyanin, “Pozitsiyi Rossiyi v ATR [Russia’s Position in the APR],” S.G. Luzyanin, Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Moscow, 2007, p. 84.
- Ibid., p. 108.
- Vai tro cua Viet Nam trong ASEAN [Vietnam’s Role in ASEAN], Hanoi, 2007, Cit. 127.
- URL: http://www.mid.ru (Retrieved on December 14, 2005.)
- Vai tro cua Viet Nam trong ASEAN, Cit. 125.
- Quoted from: Eto nezabyvayemoye slovo L’enso [That Unforgettable Word L’enso], Мoscow, 2006, p. 412.
- Quoted from: Tikhookeanskoye obozreniye 2006-2007 [Pacific Review 2006-2007], Мoscow, 2007, p. 172.
- Nghien cuu Chien luoc va Quoc te [Center for Strategic and International Studies], # 3, 2012, Cit. 66.
- Rossiyskaya gazeta, July 27, 2012.
- SRV Deputy Prime Minister of Industry and Trade Hoang Trung Hai’s report to a thematic seminar in Hanoi, August 2011.
- URL: http://russia-asean.com/ru
- URL: http://asean.mgimo.ru/ru/gallery7
- URL: www.mid.ru (Retrieved on October 1, 2010.)
Translated by Terry Clay Fabian