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A. Aslakhanov: The Growing Political and Economic Role of Russia and the Pacific Rim Nations

Address to the International Leadership Conference, Seoul, Korea, January 2012

In the context of the multi-vector foreign policy of the Russian Federation, security in North-East Asia is of growing importance; it is conditioned by Russia’s belonging to this dynamically developing region of the world (two thirds of the Russian territory, with more than 30 million people, is in Asia). Russia is interested in the potential of North-East Asia, promoting the economic growth and development of Siberia and the Far East, increasing regional cooperation, guaranteeing security, and establishing dialogue between civilizations.

Therefore, our external and internal interests are closely connected to North-East Asia. But to promote the economic growth of Siberia and the Far East, there should be no external threats in the region. Thus, we need to develop economic and political interactions with our neighbors.

Safeguarding Russia’s national security on the sub-regional level will not come through creating new military blocs on the basis of ideological solidarity but through developing political and strategic relations with neighboring nations in the region based on the principle of security through partnership and joint development. This will make it possible to create the necessary preconditions for the active and mutually profitable economic cooperation of Russia and North-East Asia as a substantial step toward achieving the joint prosperity of our nations and peoples.

Not only does Russia need an economically growing and politically stable Asia but Asia as well continues to need a strong and prosperous Russia. Without the energy resources and scientific and technical potential of Russia, it will be harder for North-East Asia to reach its goals of paramount economic prosperity as an underlying idea of regional integration.

For the North-East region to develop economically, it needs access not only to markets but even more important to modern technology and energy resources. These needs shape our contribution to the progressive development of the region, which also includes the development of human resources and the innovation sector of Siberia and Far East Russia. One can surmise that the range of problems concerning energy security will also become an even more urgent subject of multilateral and bilateral interaction in North-East Asia.

The course of development of mutually beneficial relations with nations in North-East Asia is succeeding:

China is one of the key partners of Russia not only in North-East Asia but also on the world level. Stable relationships and mutually beneficial cooperation will certainly create the external prerequisites for the prosperity of both the Russian and Chinese people.

For 15 years we have been applying a strategic partnership formula to relations between Russia and China, and we have made significant progress in the development of bilateral interconnections. The heads of state and government of Russia and China continue to engage in intense personal dialogues. They exchange visits and meet at different international forums. Thanks to their unambiguous pursuit of cooperation, there are no longer any political problems between Russia and China. In addition, the border issue has been resolved successfully.

For Russia, like all other countries, China is important as a commercial and economic partner. The economic development of the border regions of southern Siberia and Far East Russia is being advanced in many ways through the cooperation of the neighboring provinces of north-east China.

Russia and China coordinate their positions in the world within the framework of the UN, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa), RIC (Russia, India, China), Group of 20 Finance Ministers and Central Bank Governors, and multilateral associations in Asia and the Pacific rim nations. Based on shared concepts, our nations work together to create a political and economic world order where all people can enjoy equal rights and the trend of multi-polarity is strengthened.

Through the active efforts of Moscow and Seoul, a strategic partnership with the Republic of Korea is expanding, improving the interaction between Russia and Korea. Since diplomatic relations were established more than 20 years ago, Russia and the Republic of Korea have made big progress in cooperation. There are annual summits and very close interactions as we “synchronize our watches” during discussions of international affairs between our offices of foreign policy and strategic dialogue on the level of senior deputies in the ministries of foreign affairs. We consult closely about the nuclear issues on the Korean peninsula.

Together we created the needed contractual and legal bases for bilateral cooperation. Our commercial trade has been growing progressively, and in 2010 it exceeded $20 billion. Although this is smaller than Korea's trade with a number of other nations, we have the capacity to greatly increse our trade in the coming years through joint investments in power generation, petrochemicals, heavy motors, etc.

A large number of commercial agreements are being negotiated on joint scientific and research projects, including the development and production in the Republic of Korea of hi-tech products under license from Russia. Concrete programs of cooperation in fields such as science, technology and production, aeronautics, information, and communications are underway. 

Energy dialogue deserves special mention; its aim is to strengthen regional cooperation in North-East Asia in energy production and distribution involving natural gas, petroleum, coal, and peaceful uses of atomic energy. We pin great hopes on trilateral projects among Russia, the Republic of Korea, and North Korea for constructing a gas pipeline, an electricity transmission line, and connecting Korean railways with trans-Siberian railways.

We are sure that our combined efforts in such programs will bring the participants tangible benefits and advantages and also promote cooperation and mutual understanding on the peninsula; as a consequence, the security and stability in the region will be enhanced.

We are inviting businessmen from Korea and other nations to participate on conditions of parity in building a tunnel connecting the Russian mainland and the Sakhalin peninsula, laying railroad tracks, reconstructing airports in Khabarovsk and Vladivostok, and other projects not only in Siberia and Far East Russia but also in other regions of Russia.

Russia and North Korea have concluded an Agreement of Friendship, Neighborliness, and Cooperation. Between our nations there is a regular political dialogue. A mutual desire to deepen and improve the traditionally friendly connections between Russia and North Korea was corroborated during the meeting of our national leaders in August 2011 in Ulan-Ude, Russia.

Russia is interested in maintaining our political and economic bonds with North Korea. This was mentioned in the Address of the President of the Russian Federation, Dmitry Medvedev, in commemoration of the late North Korean leader Kim Jong-il. We count on such policies being continued under the new leadership of North Korea.

Trade between Russia and North Korea is comparatively small – about $100 million. The main direction of cooperation is involvement of North Korean workers mostly in the timber industry in Far Eastern Russia. Investments are being made in the reconstruction of the railway link between Tumangan and Rajin on the border of North Korea with Russia. A construction project in the port of Rajin, including a modern terminal for the transshipment of cargo by Russian and foreign companies, is expected to be completed later this year. 

Our connections with Mongolia have traditionally been friendly. Being rich in natural resources and located in the very center of Asia, Mongolia is very interested in cooperation with Russia, especially in developing its natural resources and economy. There is ongoing progress in the political, commercial, economic, military, technological, humanitarian, and cultural connections between our two nations. Regular high-level political contact takes place. During the official visit of Dmitry Medvedev to Mongolia August 25–26, 2009, and the return visit of T. Ebegdordj May 30–June 3, 2011, the two leaders signed key documents for developing a strategic partnership between the two nations.

The dialogue with Japan is being developed. The Russian Federation advocates neighborly relations and creative partnerships that will be in the interests of both countries. The problems inherited from the past are being addressed and should not present obstacles.


North-East Asia has been characterized by serious imbalances in economic development and archaic structures of political relations. Relics remain of Cold War confrontations in which international relations were defined by ideological considerations. There is no need to mask this fact. Its most vivid and painful manifestation is the issue of nuclear regulation on the Korean peninsula. This problem remains one of Russia's most urgent foreign policy challenges. In our efforts along these lines, we are first of all guided by considerations of our state responsibility as a signatory to nuclear non-proliferation treaties.

We see no alternative to political and diplomatic methods of regulating the nuclear program on the Korean peninsula. The UN Security Council Resolution 1874 calls upon participants in the Six-Party Talks (China, North Korea, Russia, South Korea, USA, and Japan) to implement their September 19, 2005 joint statement of principles, which calls for negotiations to guarantee the nuclear-free status of the Korean peninsula. We are certain that resolving this problem is the key to improving the situation in North-East Asia in general and progressively dismantling the lines of confrontation in the region.

A system of regional connections needs to be built on the basis of respect and consideration of the lawful interests and security concerns of each state; on this foundation we should formulate a common denominator for creating an architecture of peace and cooperation in North-East Asia. The process should be multilateral, mutual, and focused on long-term strategic goals and not on resolving current local problems. We all should recognize that unilateral attempts to guarantee one nation's security through increasing military structures are doomed. The only reasonable alternatives are normalization of relations, constructive cooperation, and gradual reduction of military and political tensions.

Cultivating the mind-set of being isolated and under siege with weapons aimed at the surrounding world will lead nowhere. At the same time, we should rule out political pressure, blackmail, threats, and economic measures that typically do more to worsen the living conditions of the common people than achieve their stated political goals.

The urgent need to form regional mechanisms of peace and security in North-East Asia was manifested in the two crises of 2010: the explosion of the South Korean warship Cheonan and the exchange of artillery fire in the region of Yeonpyeong Island. Russia advocates that all the issues between the two Korean states should be addressed first of all by Koreans through dialogue and compromise. Also we consider it important for all sides involved to exercise prudence and self-control for the sake of preventing further escalation of tensions and in order to promote peace, security, and stability on the Korean peninsula and in the whole region. They should apply the Oriental saying that “among those who fight there should be at least someone who is clever.”

We need mechanisms and procedures that will permit the involved sides to immediately get in contact with each other and try to negotiate between themselves without engaging in public polemics and certainly without military confrontation. Considering that a number of states are engaged militarily in the region, such mechanisms should clearly be multilateral. There is no need to invent the bicycle or discover America; there are a number of mechanisms in other parts of the world that have proven to be effective in addressing water disputes and preventing military actions. Such mechanisms can limits military activity, increase transparency, regulate mutual concerns, handle claims of violations, etc.

Within the framework of the Six-Party Talks about nuclear issues on the Korean peninsula, a dialogue was launched on the prospects for forming a North-East Asia Security Cooperative with the participation of all interested sides. A special-profile working group was created under the leadership of the Russian side. The group has achieved tangible results, and a draft “Guiding principles for guaranteeing peace and security in North-East Asia” was drawn up by the participants. A meeting of this working group took place in Moscow in February 2009; this showed that there are real opportunities for negotiations about the basics of a mechanism for guaranteeing the security of all the states in the region and prohibiting nuclear weapons from being maintained there.

In short, the institutions of our vast region should embrace different spheres of life and address issues of common security in the widest sense. Russia will not stand on the side during all these processes; Russia's ongoing development will improve the quality of our partnership and enhance our impact in solving the general problems.

In the present circumstances, joint measures for stabilizing the situation on the Korean peninsula and creating inter-Korean dialogue seem timely. In politics as in common life, we should develop the ability to listen and hear our interlocutor. There should be no place for fanaticism, about which Winston Churchill once said "A fanatic is one who can't change his mind and won't change the subject."

Russians and others can learn the lessons of the Cold War. We rejected ideology for the sake of common sense; hence, Russians are able to look at modern international realities without prejudice. Such attitudes can shape collective policies and laws so that ultimately each state, big or small, powerful of weak, transcending politics and confession, can live in complete security. Such a world without conflict and hatred is what we would like our children and grandchildren to inherit.