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Russia’s interaction with ASEAN countries has great potential for further development

15:15 | 24.11.2018 | Analytic

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24 November 2018. PenzaNews. International observers and political analysts continue to discuss the outcome of Vladimir Putin’s state visit to the Republic of Singapore, where he participated in Russia – Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit and the XIII East Asian Summit on November 11–15.

Russia’s interaction with ASEAN countries has great potential for further development

Photo: Kremlin.ru

During his visit, the Russian leader also held a number of bilateral meetings discussing current issues of cooperation and interaction with President of Singapore Halimah Yacob, Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, President of the Republic of Korea Moon Jae-in, Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of the Kingdom of Thailand Prayut Chan-ocha, President of the Republic of Indonesia Joko Widodo, and Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China Li Keqiang.

“Over the past two years, we have accomplished a lot together. Political dialogue intensified; Russia’s permanent mission to ASEAN was established in Jakarta last year. We coordinate our approaches to key issues on the Asia-Pacific agenda, to the challenges and threats to regional stability, and enhance joint efforts to fight terrorism, drug trafficking and organised crime. Our foreign ministers hold annual meetings. The Russian Defence Minister takes part in the ASEAN Defence Ministers’ meetings, and the Interior Minister attends the ASEAN Association of Chiefs of Police (ASEANAPOL) conferences. Contacts have also been established between Russian lawmakers and the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly,” Vladimir Putin said at the plenary meeting of the Russia-ASEAN summit.

“We consider it important to establish regular dialogue between ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Union. The signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Association and the Eurasian Economic Commission is a step in this direction. We are grateful to our ASEAN partners for supporting the Russian initiative to pass a joint statement on information security aiming to more effectively combat cybercrime and to chart common approaches regarding the behaviour of states in the global information space,” he added.

Later, answering journalists’ questions, Vladimir Putin stressed that no Western sanctions could prevent the cooperation of Russia with the ASEAN states, and added that the development of economies would continue.

“This cannot stop our technological or economic development altogether. This is completely impossible. Therefore, cooperation will continue. I have said today that Asian countries account for some 25 percent of our trade, and growth in this sphere has been considerable. It amounted to 27 percent, or some $200 billion, last year. Our trade is growing; our relations are developing in all fields,” he said after his state visit.

Commenting on the results of the meeting in Singapore, Lak Chansok, Researcher at Cambodia Maritime Silk Road Research Center (CMSRRC), the Royal University of Phnom Penh in Cambodia and at Democracy Promotion Center, Research Center for Asia Pacific Studies (RCAPS), Ritsumeikan Asia Pacific University in Japan, said that ASEAN summit participants addressed many security issues including, climate change, terrorism, piracy, ethnic and religious tensions, as well as discussed digital economy in the fourth industrial revolution.

“On the sideline of the ASEAN Summit, the East Asia Summit this year centered on tackling two pressing challenges: terrorism and cyberattack. ASEAN Leaders along with eight other countries including Australia, China, Japan, South Korea, New Zealand, Russia and the United States also voiced to strengthen their cooperation to deal with such new challenges. In this connection, ASEAN Member States also adopted separated statements with its dialogue partners such as ASEAN-US Leaders’ Statement on Cybersecurity Cooperation; ASEAN-Russia Statement on Security and ICT Cooperation among others,” Lak Chansok told PenzaNews.

He also drew attention to the ASEAN concern about the fast growing changing international order and threats from great power rivalry in Southeast Asia.

“As Singapore and other ASEAN Member States reiterated that the existing ‘free, open and rules-based multilateral system’ has come to its turning point since major countries are resorting to ‘unilateral actions’ and ‘bilateral deals’ and thus undermining important roles of multilateral approaches and institutions. It is explicit that the US current adopts its protectionist economic strategy to reduce its trade deficits at the expense of such […] multilateral order,” the expert said, adding that the US trade conflict with China and its bilateral economic deals with other countries negatively affects the fast growing export-oriented Asian countries.

Due to the growing US-China trade war and the US withdrawal from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), it is crucial for ASEAN to push forwards to materializing the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) without the present of the US, he believes.

“The RCEP members include ASEAN-10 plus Australia, China, Japan, India, South Korea and New Zealand. On the slide of the ASEAN Summit, Singapore played proactive roles in urging India to join ASEAN to realize RCEP since India has been reluctant that opening its market would hurt both its agricultural and industrial sectors,” the analyst added.

Meanwhile, the ASEAN-Russia relations has become politically, strategically and economically more substantial.

“At this year’s ASEAN Summit, both ASEAN and EEU signed agreements to strengthen economic cooperation. The trade between these two blocs increased to 35.7 billion dollars in 2017 and expected to further increase in coming years. In political-security aspect, both parties issued the joint statement to enhance mutual cooperation in the information and communication technologies as a vital driver in governance, security, economy, commerce and trade among others. It is also believed that Russia’s roles in ASEAN can greatly contribute to ASEAN’s dynamic equilibrium engaging all key major powers,” Lak Chansok said.

Termsak Chalermpalanupap from the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, Singapore, called the summit a good success.

“ASEAN has once again defended economic multilateralism in general, and in particular pushing for the ‘substantial conclusion’ of the RCEP negotiations by the end of this year with the goal of concluding the negotiations next year,” the expert explained.

According to him, from the political perspective, ASEAN displays its centrality, its relevance in Southeast Asia.

“ASEAN remains a credible promoter of international dialogue and cooperation for peace, security and prosperity,” Termsak Chalermpalanupap stressed.

Commenting on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s participation in the summit, the expert called it a “good gesture.”

“ASEAN certainly is very happy to see President Putin here in Singapore. And undoubtedly ASEAN is rather disappointed by the absence of President Trump. His Vice President just doesn’t leave much positive impact here,” the analyst said.

In his opinion, Russia and the ASEAN countries have every chance for further successful cooperation.

“ASEAN-Russia partnership has a great deal of potential which has not yet been realized, but it is certainly within reach if both sides redouble their concerted efforts. The signing of the cooperation MOU between the Secretary-General of ASEAN and the representative of the Eurasian Economic Union is a significant step in the right direction,” the Singaporean expert said.

“Russia has energy resources and very advanced space technology, knowhow in medical science and cyber security which ASEAN countries need. Russia can step up cooperation with ASEAN in these areas, especially in 2019 when Thailand chairs ASEAN and in 2020 when Vietnam succeeds Thailand in chairing ASEAN. Both Thailand and Vietnam would want closer cooperation with Russia, especially in energy trade, and in cyber security,” Termsak Chalermpalanupap explained.

In turn, Grant Newsham, Senior Research Fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies in Tokyo, with experience as a US Diplomat and US Marine Officer, suggested that at the ASEAN summits there is a tendency to reach “lowest common denominator” agreements.

“ASEAN has its limitations given the relatively few overlapping areas of interest between its members – not to mention considerable political and cultural differences, and outright dislike in certain cases,” Grant Newsham explained.

In his opinion, only two things were of particular note at this year’s summit.

“First, one got the impression ASEAN members who are not already in the PRC camp are increasingly ‘spooked’ by China. Chinese political, economic, and military assertiveness, if not outright aggression – such as in the South China Sea – wouldn’t have even gotten a mention if Vice President Michael Pence hadn’t shown up,” former US Diplomat said.

“The second notable aspect was the United States laying down a marker– stating in clear assertive language – rather than usual nuanced ‘diplo-speak’ – America’s intent to defend its and like-minded countries’ interests in a ‘free and open’ Indo-Pacific. Moreover, Vice President Pence specifically presented the US as an alternative to Chinese military and economic domination,” Grant Newsham added.

According to him, the leadership of the United States should have taken such an initiative earlier.

“It would have been better if Washington had stood up ten years ago, and ASEAN nations will need plenty of convincing that the US’s new found backbone has substance and will last beyond the Trump Administration,” the analyst suggested.

Speaking about cooperation between Russia and ASEAN, he expressed the opinion that there are clear limits to their cooperation, and “it’s hard to see what Russia offers ASEAN other than weapons, and it’s also unclear what ASEAN offers Russia.”

“On the one hand, Moscow sells submarines and advanced air defense systems to Vietnam, and jet fighters to Indonesia and Malaysia, while at the same time broadcasting Russia’s tight military relationship with the PRC – manifested in high-profile joint exercises. Given that the PRC fully intends to bring ASEAN nations to heel, some of the Southeast Asian nations must wonder exactly what Russia has in mind for ASEAN as China continues tightening the screws on ASEAN nations,” Grant Newsham explained his view.

Meanwhile, Shankaran Nambiar, Senior Research Fellow at Malaysian Institute of Economic Research in Kuala Lumpur, said that ASEAN Summit could not have been better timed.

“At a time when the global economy is fraught with anxiety over the future of globalisation, trade tensions and increasing isolationism, ASEAN stands as a loose membership of nations that are held together by the hope for greater trade, investment and economic cooperation,” the analyst said, stressing that the region that has done well by subscribing to these values.

However, according to him, there were some dark clouds that marred “what might otherwise have been a perfect summit.”

“Principle among them was the postponement of the deadline for the conclusion of the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP). The other issue that did not see a definitive resolution was Myanmar’s Rohingya problem,” Shankaran Nambiar said.

“However, the summit adopted seven policy documents. They included a smart cities framework, a joint statement on climate change and acknowledgement of the rights of people with disabilities,” the expert added.

In his opinion, the participation of Russian leader Vladimir Putin in the summit had a positive effect on the strengthening of cooperation between Russia and the ASEAN countries.

“If US President Donald Trump was noticeable through his absence, Russian President Vladimir Putin made his presence tangibly felt. Russia’s interest in the region was made clear through the signing of the memorandum of understanding between ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Union after the summit. This MOU will spur trade and investment between the Southeast Asian member states and those of the Eurasian Economic Union,” Shankaran Nambiar said.

He also drew attention to the fact that Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong strongly supported the upgrading of the ASEAN-Russia relationship to a strategic partnership.

“This is a clear indication that the discussions that have been held in the last few years under the Eastern Economic Forum were paving the way for broader and a more strategic relationship with ASEAN. Singapore has been a leader in this respect since it has taken bold steps in collaborating economically with Russia and EEU. It very much depends on ASEAN member states as to their willingness and readiness to take advantage of the opportunities that will arise in future,” the analyst concluded.

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