Valdai Discussion Club Presents its Report on Russia's Asian Strategy
A new analytical report by the Valdai Discussion Club was presented in Moscow on July, 5. During the presentation of the report "Toward the great ocean, or the new globalization of Russia," leading Valdai Club experts discussed Russia’s strategy in the Asia-Pacific region within the global context, along with prospects for relaunching the development of Siberia and the Russian Far East. An expert discussion of the report was held by leading Russian and Asian experts on the regional and international issues at the fifth conference of the Valdai Club Asian section on July 6-7 in Moscow.
The report was presented by its authors - Sergei Karaganov, Chairman of the Presidium, Council for Foreign and Defense Policy and Chairman of the Valdai Discussion Club, and Oleg Barabanov, Professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) under the Russian Foreign Ministry. The discussion was moderated by Pavel Andreev, Executive Director for International Cooperation, RIA Novosti and Executive Director of the Valdai Club Foundation.
The authors of the report argued that Russia had so far failed to attach itself to the locomotive of the Asian economic growth while the United States and Europe have been able to use the possibilities offered by China and the "Asian tigers" to their own benefit. However, the experts stressed that Russia has all the necessary prerequisites for success in its inevitable turn toward Asia. As they put it, "joining Asia is a must for Russia's development".
Russia has already tried to elaborate an effective Asian strategy, though all the efforts of government institutions and NGOs have been in vain, mostly due to the fact that their authors do not fully understand the possibilities that Russia can use to restart its economic growth and reestablish its influence in the world. As Sergei Karaganov stressed, the current report does not offer a fixed set of practical measures or a development plan. On the contrary, the authors set the goal of reshaping Russian geopolitical discourse and changing the Eurocentric model of Russia's foreign and economic policy to a more balanced approach that will include Asia and Asian issues.
The experts pointed out that Moscow has always used the Far East as a home front in its relations with the West or as a battlefront in its relations with China. The Far East was considered as a "thing-in-itself", a self-contained and self-supporting region that had little to do with big politics and Russia's international position. However, this perception must be changed if Russia wants to "to catch the Chinese wind in the sails of Russia's economy" and to open itself up to Asia's numerous possibilities.
The authors said that the newly created Ministry for the Development of the Far East is a necessary initiative which can be used both for implementing and imposing control over Russia’s Asian policy, though a genuine integration with one of the most important regions in the world today is impossible without the creation of a free-trade zone encompassing Russia and the leading economies of the Asia-Pacific. Thus, such a ministry can only be a temporary solution to a much bigger problem.
As the experts put it, opening up to the "emerging Asia" is impossible without the Trans-Urals regions, the use of competitive advantages stemming from Asia's growth, the strengthening of the attractiveness of foreign investment and the creation of incentives for gifted and enterprising individuals.
Moreover, one of the most challenging ideas presented in the report was the proposal to split the powers and responsibilities of the national capital between Moscow and a city or cities in the Far East or Siberia. Sergei Karaganov said that the city of Artyom near Vladivostok would be a perfect candidate for an "Oceanic capital of Russia". This idea provoked a wave of questions during the presentation and lead to fevered debate among the experts at the fifth conference of the Valdai Club Asian Section.
Offering an innovative approach to the recovery of Russia's Eastern regions and the strengthening of their role in a national and international context, the Valdai Club experts suggested a strategy that, as Oleg Barabanov clarified, is to be called "Project Siberia". Among other things, he said that Kazakhstan, being a member of the Customs Union, is a direct competitor to the Siberian transit infrastructure. Thus he proposed changing the status of Russia's Trans-Urals regions to an economic subject of the Customs Union with its representatives in the Eurasian economic commission.
The experts also argued that the major threats to Siberia - depopulation and marginalization of people - could be avoided and even turned back by an influx of ambitious and talented individuals. Sergei Karaganov compared today's situation with that of the beginning of the 20th century and said that Pyotr Stolypin, regarded as one of Russia’s greatest statesmen, had to relocate millions of peasants to kick-start Siberia, while today that can be achieved by relocating tens of thousands of people.
The report continues a major expansion in the research agenda of the Valdai Club. During the first seven years of its work, the Club mostly focused on Russia's external environment and foreign policy, whereas the 2011 report "Russia Should Not Miss Its Chance" focused on the domestic political environment and the latest report on the strategy for Asia deals with the economic development of Russia's regions, along with the task of integration in the Asia-Pacific region.
The conference that was held on July, 6-7 also signified a change in the concept framework of the Valdai Club Asian agenda. While the previous conferences were devoted mostly to the bilateral relations between Russia and China with minor inclusions of the other Asian issues, the 2012 conference highlighted a broader set of issues including India’s role in the region along with possibilities for Russia’s cooperation with ASEAN and Japan. Thus, the Valdai Club Russian-Chinese section was transformed to the Asian section.