After 20-year climb, Russia and Asean reach Sochi summit

THURSDAY, MAY 19, 2016

Partnership between two emerging giants of global economy will achieve new heights today

Today, leaders of Brunei-Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam are meeting in Sochi for the Russia-Asean Commemorative Summit. Hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin, they will outline prospects for the development of Russia-Asean partnership for years to come.
The summit comes 20 years after Moscow and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations formalised relations, in July 1996.
The relations are based on a rich heritage of strong friendship between our peoples. It has yielded examples of selfless aid and unprecedented joint struggle. Mutual rivalry and suspicion have been replaced by pragmatic cooperation. 
That bond also exists between governments, which is what makes Asean’s partnership with Russia different from its relationship with any other major country. There has never been a war between us, and Russia has never been involved in the enslavement of peoples in Southeast Asia. In Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Indonesia, Myanmar and elsewhere in the region, memories of massive Russian assistance in the second half of the 20th century run deep. Earlier, in the late 19th century, Russia helped Thailand to maintain its independence.
Today, there are no conflicts of interest that would hinder development of mutually beneficial cooperation. Russia is an honest and open partner that does not seek domination, is not seeking unilateral advantages, does not have a “double agenda” and is neither trying to split Asean nor to use it for his own selfish interests.
Moscow is well aware of the problems Asean member-countries are facing, but on principle it declines to impose prescriptions for development paths or political systems. We do not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, do not pressure them and do not instruct others how to live.
To appreciate how far Russia-Asean relations have come over the past 20 years we need only recall that in the early 1990s trade between the two sides totalled less than US$1 billion. By 2014 it had skyrocketed beyond $22 billion. 
Today the Russia-Asean dialogue is a multifaceted mechanism. It has more than a dozen different directions – from counter-terrorism to agriculture, from energy and innovation to emergency responsiveness and tourism. Joint forums include not only ministerial meetings and working-group sessions but also Years of Culture and youth summits. 
We have no doubt that over time these relations will elevate to the level of strategic partnership.
Russia is among the world’s 10 largest economies. It is also a leader in the ongoing integration of Eurasia, which last year was institutionalised in the form of the Eurasian Economic Union (EEU). Work has begun to align the EEU with the Silk Road Economic Belt promoted by our strategic partner, China.
Finally, we must realise that Russia is a young and growing nation. Its powerful development drive, multiplied by huge resource potential, advanced scientific and technological development and highly skilled workforce, will undoubtedly bear fruit in years to come. Russia can be likened to a strong long-distance runner who has made a good start in the race
Moscow supports Southeast Asian countries’ efforts to transform themselves into a single economic community – a stance shared by the EEU, the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, or SCO (China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and the so-called BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). We will continue to back the Asean Community’s integration efforts and stand ready to contribute to implementation of its development plans.
Russia also invites Asean countries to join efforts aimed at forging a single trans-regional economic space on the Eurasian continent, incorporating the EEU, the SCO and the Asean Community. The creation of a free-trade zone encompassing the EEU and Asean, which could offer huge benefits for both sides, will be discussed in Sochi today.
Meanwhile the implementation of joint Russia-Asean energy, transport, infrastructure, telecommunications, science and technology projects will involve the transfer of technology and expertise, the localisation of production and professional training in Russia and onsite. Moreover, Russia is ready to assist Asean countries in creating new sectors for their economies and transitioning to an innovative model of development.
Moscow views Asean as an equal partner and rejects any relationship based on the donor-recipient paradigm. Asean is a rapidly rising participant of international cooperation, a major grouping with a powerful industrial, agricultural and resource base. In this sense, the Russian-Asean partnership will be a “two-way street”. Moscow is set to ramp up trade, economic and investment cooperation with the countries of Southeast Asia by implementing joint projects in the region. 
Likewise, the new phase of cooperation will benefit from increasing investment by Asean’s leading companies in the Russian economy, their participation in the development of the Russian Far East, increasing numbers of tourists visiting our country, and cultural exchanges with Asean countries which invariably attract huge Russian audiences.
Russia and Asean are two centres of influence in the emerging multipolar world order, with similar or identical approaches to the key global problems. Together we aim to apply to international relations the principles of indivisible security, non-aligned thinking, equality and mutual benefit. That is why Russia believes that concerted efforts with Asean in international and regional affairs are needed.
Over the past 20 years, Russia and Asean have come a long way. But one thing remains unchanged: our conscientious, unwavering determination to forge close partnership with countries of this region and to involve the Russian economy in regional integration processes. Today that partnership will achieve new heights.
KIRILL BARSKY is the Russian Federation’s ambassador to Thailand.