Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Morgulov’s interview with Interfax News Agency, December 14, 2018 (source):
Question: What is your opinion on the outcome of the Russia-ASEAN summit meeting held in Singapore in mid-November?
Igor Morgulov: Without exaggeration, the Singapore meeting of the Russian and ASEAN leaders opened a new page in our relations with the association. The joint statement they adopted sealed the strategic nature of Russia-ASEAN partnership. This goal was formulated relatively recently, two and a half years ago, at the Russia-ASEAN summit in Sochi in May 2016. The path towards this goal was both simple and difficult.
It was simple because Russia and the 10 ASEAN nations act together on the international stage, jointly upholding the principles of the superiority of law, multilateralism, equality and mutual respect for the interests of all states. They also hold similar views on the majority of regional and global issues.
But it was also a difficult path because increasing international tension provoked by Western policy towards Russia has had a direct impact on our relations with the key players in the Asia Pacific Region. Our enemies did their utmost to leave us outside regional projects and to push us aside from the ongoing creation of a new regional architecture.
Now the formalised Russia-ASEAN strategic partnership will become a major factor in strengthening multilateralism in regional politics and will help create an open and equal system in the Asia Pacific Region. We believe that this system should be based on ASEAN and the offspring formats, primarily the East Asia Summit, as well as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, which has greatly expanded its geopolitical resource following the admission of India and Pakistan last year.
The decision on strategic partnership was also well-timed because of the promotion of the so-called Indo-Pacific strategies. I am referring to the concepts that have been proposed by the United States, Japan and Australia, which, simply put, are designed to establish these countries’ domination in the region through the containment of China and the weakening of Russia’s influence. The ASEAN nations, who understand that the implementation of such strategies could create a dividing line in the Asia Pacific Region and marginalise the 10-member association, are considering their own concept of regional cooperation.
We believe that the improvement of the regional architecture calls for collective efforts, precluding the erosion of the existing system that took decades to develop. We will work together with ASEAN to promote this approach, since we have already established a solid dialogue on this subject.
Question: What practical benefits will Russia enjoy from the new quality of relations with the Association?
Igor Morgulov: We are talking about the possibility of expanding economically in a large and promising market with a population of 650 million. Even today, ASEAN collectively ranks as the sixth largest economy in the world and has an ambitious goal of becoming the fourth in the foreseeable future.
No less important in this context is the fact that, unlike Western states, none of the ASEAN countries have joined the anti-Russia sanctions. ASEAN has not closed its markets to Russian products and is ready to use the latest Russian technology. In the context of the challenges facing the Southeast Asian economies to ensure food and energy security, to strengthen interconnectedness, to reduce the development gap and create high-tech industries, Russian innovations are in great demand, especially in energy, space, transport, industry, agriculture and medicine .
Mutual investment cooperation looks very promising. Singapore, for example, is the eighth largest direct investor in the Russian economy, with more than $17.3 billion. Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia are involved in agricultural and industrial projects in Russian regions. Reciprocally, the volume of our country’s accumulated investment in the region is $26 billion.
The Russia-ASEAN strategic partnership has a significant integration dimension. Russia, which currently chairs the Eurasian Economic Union, relies on increasing intra- and interregional connectivity just like ASEAN, and advances the philosophy of the indivisibility of economic development, which underlies the concept of the Greater Eurasian Partnership. On the sidelines of the summit, a memorandum of cooperation was signed between the EAEU and ASEAN. Its consistent implementation will contribute to broader integration in Eurasia, especially if the SCO becomes more involved in the process – such plans already exist.
At a meeting in Singapore, leaders adopted a statement on the security of information and communication technologies aimed at improving the effectiveness of the fight against cybercrime and the development of common approaches to the behavior of states in the global information space. Based on this document, it is planned to launch a regular expert dialogue.
The new level of relations between Russia and ASEAN will also make it possible to more effectively address the counter-terrorism coordination tasks relevant to the entire region, including countering the cross-border movement of foreign terrorist fighters. We will increase assistance to the ten ASEAN countries in training personnel for law enforcement agencies.
Shortly before the Singapore summit in Myanmar, the first meeting of the new Russian-ASEAN mechanism, the Working Group on Education, was held, the results of which were approved by the leaders. We expect that it will undertake the full range of issues of cooperation development in this area, including the organisation of educational and university forums, the establishment of academic contacts, and the joint development of curricula.
The steady growth in the number of Russian tourists travelling to Southeast Asia — over 2 million a year now — has objectively added the security and quality of tourist services to our agenda. Russia’s assistance in training ASEAN sanitary and epidemiological control specialists at our specialised centres, the development of emergency response and disaster relief contacts also contribute to meeting these goals.
Question: What impression has President Putin’s first attendance at the East Asia Summit in Singapore had on the region?
Igor Morgulov: The President’s attendance at the EAS was a major part of our efforts to strengthen Russia’s position in the Asia Pacific. It has had a very positive effect as evidence of Moscow’s increased attention to regional affairs.
I should clarify though that this was Vladimir Putin’s second appearance at the EAS. The first time was in 2005 when he attended the first EAS as a guest of the Malaysian government. It was only when Russia and the United States joined this format in 2010 that the EAS became a full platform for the regional leaders’ strategic dialogue on Asia-Pacific security and tackling emerging challenges, and economic development. The Singapore summit, which Vladimir Putin attended, has reaffirmed the increasing importance of an open dialogue between the world’s leading powers on current issues of regional development, especially amid the current turbulence in global politics and the economy.
Russia has consistently proposed a unifying agenda for the EAS aimed at maintaining stability and sustainable development and promoting practical cooperation in the Asia Pacific.
We emphasise joint counterterrorism efforts, and our approaches to this issue have been supported by our partners. Evidence of this is support for the Russian idea of the EAS leaders’ statement on countering the threat of foreign terrorist fighters and returnees and a similar document on countering the ideological challenges of terrorism and terrorist narratives and propaganda, which was adopted last year.
We have been working especially hard at the EAS to improve the security architecture. We are convinced that the system of interstate relations in the Asia Pacific must be based exclusively on universally recognised and legally binding principles, not some “rules-based order” that some countries advocate, with the implication that they would determine these rules themselves. Of course, we cannot accept this approach to international law.
In conclusion, I would like to say that the strategic breakthrough achieved at the November events in Singapore has opened a large window of opportunity for us in the Asia Pacific, which is a large and rapidly developing part of the world. This objectively strengthens the multi-vector approach of our diplomacy and, ultimately, the global position of the Russian Federation.