APEC summit brings Russia back to Asia
RT – 31/08/2012 – por Fyodor Lukyanov
A summit of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which will take place in September in Vladivostok, is an important milestone for both Russia and the organization itself. For the first time, Russia has an opportunity to claim her strong commitment to the Asia-Pacific Region (APR) as a Pacific power.
But APEC benefits as well: Russia’s chairmanship reminds the world that the APR – which emerges as the main strategic region of the 21st century – is inseparably linked to the Euro-Atlantic region and its central role in the events of the 20th century. This link is only strengthened by trans-regional integration with Russia, which should work hard, of course, to make this a reality.
The establishment of APEС in the 1990s was the result of a fundamental shift in world affairs. Ideological barriers have been removed (of which the DPRK is a tiny remnant), and strategic competition in Asia was replaced by an economic agenda. But when the 21st century began, the great powers started to gravitate towards Asia, realizing that the Euro-Atlantic region would no longer dominate world affairs.
There are numerous power centers in Asia, but no stable and clear framework for international relations. A key factor is, of course, the rise of China. Meanwhile, other countries are also involved in matters, primarily territorial concerns. The recent escalation of tensions between Japan and its neighbors is just one of many dramatic manifestations of history, which is still alive. Present-day controversies are rooted in the past, and they may even remind one of the disputes which led Europe to disastrous conflicts several decades ago. Old rivalries become intertwined with emerging ones, like between the US and China.
There are two factors which deter aggressive behavior: Nuclear weapons and deep economic interdependence. The former radically increases the costs of any military stand-off. The latter makes the severing of diplomatic ties extremely expensive to every party involved. Those two elements reduce the risk of competition between great powers, but don’t eliminate it entirely.
Russian policy has always been focused on the West. In terms of culture and history, Russia is much more European than Asian. In the post-Soviet period, Europe has been strengthened because of Russian demographics (three-fourths of Russia’s population lives in European region) and trade (more than half of which is with the EU). Now, with a global shift to Asia, Russia cannot afford lose her Pacific identity. We should not expect a decisive Russian reorientation towards Asia, but increasing Russia’s influence in the region is vitally important. The only way to do that is to use the advantages of Russia’s identity as a Euro-Asian country.
Economically, it means the potential for transit. Not only for transportation, but broader, by extending common markets from Europe to Eastern Asia. All policy statements about a Eurasian Union proposed by Vladimir Putin are about just that. As far as politics and security are concerned, Moscow has the unique position to project on Asia an experience with conflict resolution honed in Europe.
On the one hand, Russia is an integral part of both regions. On the other hand, it is visible, but not dominant, in Asia. So Russia is taken into account, but not necessarily feared there. To realize its natural advantages, Russia will need to be much more active in the Asia-Pacific region. It should diversify its ties and not only be tethered to China. It remains to be seen whether Moscow will be able to pursue its planned independent policies in Asia as it does in Europe.
APEC is especially important an economic body, because the key to Russian success in Asia is its ability to develop the Russian Far East – a huge international project with a multitude of participants. A balanced multilateral partnership for the exploration of Russia’s Asian regions will attract attention to Russian initiatives, and could even become a test case for the rest of the APR, defining future interests and cooperation.