Last November Russian President Vladimir Putin and Asean leaders took a historic decision to raise the Asean-Russia Dialogue Partnership to a strategic level.
This year marks the start of that new cooperation, as Thailand takes the Asean helm. Thailand’s role as chair of Asean is crucial for the region, given growing global political and economic turbulence, escalating competition between major international powers, rising protectionism and unilateralism, and the spread of terrorism and other transboundary threats and challenges. What can Russia as a new strategic partner do to cooperate with Thailand and other Asean members in the interests of a stable and peaceful environment in Asia Pacific?
First, Russia believes that Asean’s evolving concept of an open, transparent and inclusive regional architecture is the only alternative to a chaotic structure based on military alliances and the rule of force. Like most Asean countries we are concerned about attempts to impose outside strategies on the region, along with new geographic chimeras based on self-interested “containment”. Russia believes that in 2019, Asean will continue growing as an independent centre in the emerging multi-polar world order. As an indispensable player in the region, my country firmly supports Thai efforts aimed at promoting Asean centrality and unity, and advancing a community that is people-centred, future-oriented and leaves no one behind.
This year, together with Asean member states Russia will continue to promote multilateral discussions at the East Asia Summit on regional security. By strengthening effectiveness of existing Asean-led mechanisms we are seeking to build a regional system based on mutual trust and respect for legitimate interests of all states, where national security of any one country should not come at the expense of others’ security.
Both Asean and Russia understand that our common region is at a crossroads. This year we must build on collective strategic trust based on equality of all participants and multilateralism. The Partnership for Sustainability cannot be achieved by drawing dividing lines in the region or declaring that all countries belong to different categories – allies, privileged partners, competitors, “destructive forces” or outcasts, with all the destabilising consequences. Vague “rules” worked out by one or several countries and imposed on others cannot replace the supremacy of the UN Charter, and norms and principles of international law, which comprise the vital foundation for international order.
The road towards the Asean-Russia strategic partnership was not an easy one. It was influenced by baseless attempts by some Western powers to discredit Russia in Asia as well as other parts of the world, and also to label Moscow a destructive force in the region without any proof – a growing trend in Western rhetoric. As we Russians say: “One should take the mote out of one’s eye before talking about the chaff in another’s.” However, our Asean friends refuse to be fooled by fake news. Last year Asean adopted documents on minimising the harmful effects of fake news. It’s now time to think about relevant cooperation between Asean and Russia.
The decision to forge a strategic partnership gives greater impetus to all areas of Asean-Russia cooperation, opening new horizons for mutual support and dialogue in 2019.
Strategic partnership means more trust regarding sensitive issues. One of them is the fight against terrorism, which is on the rise in Southeast Asia. Russia is a global leader in combating this evil. The Russian Aerospace Defence Forces in Syria have contributed dramatically to the fight against ISIS, Jabhat al-Nusra and other terrorist groups and in restoring peace in that war-torn country. Russian security experts are already sharing with Asean experts their experience in fighting terrorism and the spread of its ideology. Now is the time to deepen this cooperation. To combat foreign terrorist fighters travelling to the region, we can do more in terms of intelligence sharing and capacity building.
All countries are now vulnerable to attacks on their information and communications technology (ICT) infrastructure. The challenge comes from well-coordinated attempts to misuse information resources or technologies for criminal, political or terrorist purposes. Repelling literally hundreds of cyber-attacks a day, Russia has acquired enormous experience in developing protection systems and is open to sharing it with Asean partners. We believe that 2019 will bring more for the Asean-Russia Dialogue on ICT security.
Our countries strongly support multilateral trade based on WTO rules. Though Asean does not have an FTA with Russia, our trade trend is positive, growing 35 per cent in 2017. Last year in Singapore, Asean and the Eurasian Economic Commission – the regulating body of the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) – signed a memorandum of cooperation. We hope soon to launch a feasibility study on an Asean-EAEU FTA that promotes trade and creates new opportunities for our manufacturers.
Strategic partnership opens new perspectives for tech cooperation in such sensitive areas as space exploration, aviation, energy (including nuclear) and military. Russia is relatively flexible with technology transfer.
With the new partnership, we are looking for opportunities to contribute more on Asean plans for connectivity and narrowing the development gap. Russia will further support the Asean Smart Cities Network and other initiatives aimed at sustainable development of the region. Our country is ready to share its experience on inclusive and sustainable urban development.
This year Asean and Russia also intend to sign an MoU on disaster management and emergency response. We stand ready to assist Asean partners with vast Russian experience and tech potential in emergency response.
Two million Russian tourists visit Southeast Asia every year, more than half choosing Thailand. As Asean chair, Thailand has a good opportunity to boost people-to-people contacts and exchanges between Asean and Russia.
Asean and Russia have huge potential to explore. And we hope that with Thailand as Asean chair our strategic partnership will gain momentum to ensure our common strategic future.
Alexander Ivanov is ambassador of Russia to Asean.