Andrey Bystritskiy, Chairman of the Foundation for Development and Support of the Valdai Discussion Club, opened the conference by outlining the main trends in the Asia-Pacific region. According to him, one of the top priorities today is the need to assess soberly the main directions of the APR transformation.
According to Irene Chan, Associate Research Fellow at the Institute of Defence and Strategic Studies, S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies, Nanyang Technological University, cooperation in the region and the integration of the ASEAN countries is a complex and controversial process. The main problem lies in the difference of approaches between the member-states. Since the late 20th century, the US and China have been the leading players in the region; they are expanding their influence by investing in the South-East Asian countries.
Huang Jing, Lee Foundation Professor on US-China Relations, Director of the Centre on Asia and Globalisation, Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore (NUS), echoed the view that deep contradictions between China and the United States exist, including in the South China Sea issue. The US is interested in strengthening its influence in the region. For China, it is one of the major strategic issues of national security. At the same time, both players are fairly cautious and there can be no open conflict between them in the near future.
Philippine Ambassador to Russia Carlos Sorreta said that the main difficulty for the inclusion of Russia in the existing regional security system is the need to adjust to the established set of rules, formed under the strong influence of the United States. Huang Jing added that the creation of a new system is prevented by the hermetic structure of the existing strategic alliances, whose members are too dependent on the US.
Policies of the US president-elect Donald Trump became one of the most debated topics at the conference. His recent statement that he was not sure about the appropriateness of the "one China" policy (i.e., non-recognition of Taiwan) caused a lively discussion. Participants suggested a number of possible scenarios: the most likely is to maintain the existing system of relations. According to Fyodor Lukyanov, the Valdai Discussion Club Academic Director, Trump is trying to up the ante in the bargaining of a new system of relations with China.
In this case, the aforementioned political tensions in the region, according to Huang Jing and Irene Chan, are not related to the economic development and interaction among regional actors. Asia-Pacific is in the midst of the third wave of modernization and industrialization, which will allow the region to reach a qualitatively new level of development and to secure its economic achievements.
Huang Jing said that the current economic situation in Russia does not allow it to invest actively in the region, competing with other leading players. At the same time, it is necessary to take steps to increase the Russian influence in the region. One important step could be the further development of the Russian Far East to attract Asian investors. The necessary measures for this purpose should include a more stable and transparent environment, as well as a modern legal framework that protects the rights of investors.
Alexander Lukin, Director of the Center for East Asian and Shanghai Cooperation Organization Studies, Moscow State Institute of International Relations University, gave a broader picture of relations between Asia and Eurasia. According to him, the main difficulty is the United States’ desire to maintain the dominant position in the international arena. Therefore, the growing strength of new centers of influence is not recognized by the United States. According to Professor Lukin, a basic necessity for all the players on the world arena is the development of a new system of international rules and spheres of influence. Russia has already taken first steps in this regard, it is ready to cooperate and negotiate actively with other partners.
Mikhail Galuzin, Russia’s Permanent Representative to ASEAN, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to the Republic of Indonesia, proposed to strengthen cooperation in the ASEAN+8 format, making it the backbone element of the emerging security system. Its advantage lies in the equality of all member players, as well as in its inclusivity, he said.
Speakers pointed out that despite possible difficulties and contradictions, such approach can be beneficial in case of consolidation of the ASEAN member states and the formation of a common foreign policy concept.