Russia looks toward East Asia for new allies and economic expansion

Russian Federation hosted Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos and Singapore for the first time to mark partnership between Moscow and the Asian bloc

Editorial by Sana Jamal

On the eve of Third ASEAN-Russia Summit on May 19, 2016 the Russian President Vladimir Putin held marathon meetings with ASEAN leaders and indicated his deep interest in developing strategic ties with nations of the East and holding good promise of closer partnership ties with the participating states.

According to Russian daily Izvestia during the first such submit meeting held in Russian city of Sochi, the Russian strongman assured the leaders of Asean nations that Moscow is now looking to the East.

Leaders of the ten ASEAN countries of Southeast Asia gathered in Russia to discuss economic and trade relationship but inter-actions are bound to lead to strengthening of political relationship as well.

It is for the first time that Russian Federation has hosted the leaders of includes Myanmar, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Cambodia, the Sultanate of Brunei Darussalam, Vietnam, Philippines, Laos and Singapore.

At the Sochi summit, almost all the countries of the organization, were presented the presidents and heads of governments, only from the Philippines came to an official of a lower rank – Minister of Science and Technology.

Prime Ministers of the ASEAN states also held detailed talks with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and trade officials.

Reports from Russia suggest that Moscow considers ASEAN as a prospective arms market for Russia and Indonesia and Malaysia have expressed their willingness to important defence-related technologies from Russia.

Within the framework of economic cooperation there is also a possibility of signing Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the Eurasian Economic Union and ASEAN. Russia proposes to expand the format of cooperation, and connect to the FTA with Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

There are reports that Brunei is interested to buy Russia’s Sukhoi SuperJet-100.

Russia’s decision to “Turn to the East” is aimed at reducing the country’s economic dependence on the West and to take advantage of Asia’s growing economies.

Russia has felt the pinch of decreasing oil revenues and pressed with Western sanctions which have plunged the Russian economy into crisis.

Until recently Moscow had not been a proactive participant in ASEAN-led security forums such as the East Asia Summit because of its limited influence and its more substantive interests in other inter-state forums.

Following a meeting of the cultural minister of ASEAN states and Russia it wa also agreed to expand tourism and development of cultural traditions.

The Ministers agreed on the maintenance and development of culture and arts, preservation of monuments, development of tourism and the creative exchange of delegations. Plans for further cultural cooperation with Russia in the ASEAN painted until 2025.

Before attending the ASEAN-Russia Summit, President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin held a bilateral meeting to discuss efforts to expand cooperation in various fields, particularly to increase trade between both nations.

According to Indonesian news agency Antara, President Jokowi also praised the bilateral relations between Indonesia and Russia, which were established six decades ago.
“Our bilateral relations, which have a long-standing history going back to the days of President Soekarno, should be intensified now. I also hope that economic, political, and cultural ties will be expanded further,” the Indonesian head of state was quoted as saying.

The two leaders witnessed the signing of five memoranda of understanding, covering issues in defense, archiving, eliminating illegal fishing, and cultural exchanges.

From the Indonesian side, the MoUs were signed by Foreign Affairs Minister Retno Marsudi, Maritime Affairs and Fisheries Minister Susi Pudjiastuti, and Head of the National Archive Agency Mustari Irawan.

Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and Russian President Vladimir Putin also held separate meeting and agreed to expand cooperation between the two states.

In the meeting held in conjunction with the Asean-Russia Commemorative Summit, Najib and Putin also agreed that Malaysia and Russia would hold further discussions to ensure that justice is done in the MH17 incident after the report by the Joint Investigation Team (JIT).

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was quoted as saying “ASEAN and Russia should have a common vision for the Asia-Pacific region to be open, peaceful and stable, as well as economically integrated and prosperous.”

Speaking at the ASEAN-Russia Commemorative Summit in Sochi, Mr Lee said that only with a common vision will the parties be able to deepen cooperation, strengthen their relationship and move towards a strategic partnership.
Mr Lee also noted that to harness ASEAN’s potential, the region should strive towards peace and stability, including managing specific issues such as the ongoing South China Sea disputes and the security concerns from the activities of ISIS.

Meanwhile Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi on May 19, 2016 denied reports that Indonesia has already purchased 10 Sukhoi Su-35 fighter jets from Russia. A deal was reportedly signed for the fighter jets during President Joko Widodo’s state visit this week to Russia.

“I need to correct reports that Indonesia has bought the Sukhoi jets—no such deal has been signed yet,” Retno was quoted as saying without revealing whether the deal is still on or no longer on the table.

She said defense was one of the issues discussed on Wednesday by Jokowi, as the Indonesian president is popularly known, and President Vladimir Putin, but the Sukhoi purchase was not a topic of discussion. Indonesia, Southeast Asia’s largest country, has increased its defense spending over the past three years, modernizing its aging military arsenal, especially its Air Force fleet.

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About the Author: Akhtar Jamal

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