In the previous article, you and I examined the relations between Russia and the ASEAN organisation – one of the fundamentally important “players” in the Asia-Pacific region. This is the largest and most successful association in Southeast Asia, which in geo-economic terms occupies one of the leading places in Asia and unites a region with a population of over 600 million people. Now I propose to talk about the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, a multilateral regional association with the participation of 21 economies, including Russia, which discusses trade and economic cooperation and the promotion of regional economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region.
The updated Foreign Policy Concept approved last March states that Russia intends to continue interstate cooperation through APEC (Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation), whose members account for more than sixty percent of the world’s gross domestic product.
As part of Russia’s foreign policy, APEC is partly a tool for Russia to develop cross-national infrastructure projects and increase investment in the Far East. At the same time, Russia continues to initiate many partnership projects: for example, it promotes the formation of a free trade zone in the Asia-Pacific region.
Since the formation of the forum in 1989, the Asia-Pacific Partnership has been limited to US attempts to co-operate with the countries of the region without China’s participation. A similar situation can be observed today: the United States authorities are developing new agreements with the APR countries, bypassing China’s participation. However, in practice, these agreements do not become effective: Asian countries continue their active participation in the APEC forum, in which China’s economy occupies a prominent place.
APEC is becoming an important centre of global economic development, and Russia is already seeing positive trends within the framework of this forum. For this reason, in 2020 Vladimir Putin, who did not attend the three previous APEC meetings, made a speech (via video conference due to the pandemic) and expressed Russia’s intention to actively cooperate with all APEC members. This forum is an important element of Russia’s foreign policy in the Asia-Pacific region.
At the same time, even within APEC, some Pacific Rim countries are attempting to curb the potential of the Russian and Chinese economies. For example, in 2022, seven APEC member countries attempted to develop an international system for data exchange, but without the participation of Russia and China. The scheme, initiated by the US authorities, will be an analogue of the existing APEC Cross-Border Privacy Rules System, but will not include Russia and China.
In 2023, APEC will be chaired by the United States: it is becoming noticeable that this hinders “constructive non-politicized dialogue”, which is mentioned in the new Foreign Policy Concept of the Russian Federation. For example, Russia’s representative to APEC said that many delegations are actually waiting for the U.S. chairmanship to end so that the “American fixation” can end. Moreover, according to him, the United States’ anti-Russian rhetoric can be traced even within APEC, although the forum is aimed exclusively at cooperation and the development of comprehensive dialogue.
In August 2023, the US even refused to issue visas for Russian representatives to attend APEC, thus sticking to the line of anti-Russian sanctions. However, later, in October, the U.S. still announced that it would be able to host the Russian delegation at the San Francisco summit, stating that Russia’s participation would be “appropriate” but subject to the sanctions’ policy.
Thus, Russia was still represented at the summit, even despite the crisis in relations with the host country. Thus, the Russian Federation emphasised its commitment to foreign policy related to interstate cooperation within APEC. Following the summit, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that most of Russia’s APEC partners in the Asia-Pacific region are striving to depoliticise processes within the forum.
The Foreign Policy Concept also states Russia’s intention to counter attempts to draw dividing lines in the Asia-Pacific region. Such terminology, in particular, refers to the US policy. Thus, the U.S. authorities are trying to reduce the cooperation of ASEAN countries and APEC members with Russia to a minimum and change the balance of power in the region by transforming the regional system already created around ASEAN.
In other words, today the region has a so-called “Aseanocentric” security system, i.e. concentrated around the members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and their dialogue partners (e.g., China). However, there are growing tendencies for the US to develop alternative Indo-Pacific co-operation strategies in the region. According to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, this proposal includes the introduction of NATO into the Asia-Pacific region and the movement of the North Atlantic Alliance’s military infrastructure to Asia and Oceania. The military alliance AUKUS (Australia, UK, USA), in its turn, plans to expand the field of its activities in the Asia-Pacific region: the alliance is considering the possibility of supplying arms to Taiwan, as well as offering Japan to join the military structure.
In addition, the Russian Foreign Minister said that the ASEAN organisation is starting to experience “internal friction” against the backdrop of fundamentally different views on cooperation with the US.
Even in September 2023, at the ASEAN summit, the US goal, according to Dmitry Mosyakov, Head of the Department of the Southeast Asia Centre of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, was to discredit not only Chinese policy, but also Russian policy. Thus, the US continues to actively introduce its military and political resources into the Asian part of the Asia-Pacific region, as well as lobbying sanctions policy among ASEAN countries (only Singapore joined the sanctions against Russia).
Consequently, the policy of creating dividing lines, which is mentioned in the Concept of the Foreign Policy of the Russian Federation, is realised by some countries in practice. Russia intends to counteract the disunity of the countries of the region.
The Russian Federation continues to actively participate in the development of cooperation between the countries of the Asia-Pacific region, despite attempts to change the existing regional partnership by some states. In its new Foreign Policy Concept, Russia has adopted the Asia-Pacific region as a priority area of its foreign policy activities, while in practice continuing to work with ASEAN and APEC members.
The Greater Eurasian Partnership described in the Concept is an achievable goal. However, its realisation requires the efforts of all APR countries to utilise the region’s potential. The states of the Pacific Ocean coastline should jointly promote sustainable economic development and the formation of a comprehensive Asia-Pacific security architecture. The new year has already arrived, but the challenges remain the same.
Alexey BOLSHAKOV, international journalist, especially for “New Eastern Outlook”