Joint economic initiatives and security issues in Northeast Asia were at the heart of the discussion at the Valdai Club session in the framework of the Eastern Economic Forum, held on September 6 in Vladivostok. Participants at the session, titled "The Russia–China–Japan–US Quadrangle: Are There Opportunities for Cooperation?" shared their views on the prospects for multilateral cooperation on the economic development of the region and the solution of the North Korean nuclear missile problem.
Igor Morgulov, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, voiced the position of Russia on the regional security issue. According to him, the key problem is the absence in the regional system of indivisible security, which presumes that the security of one party cannot be guaranteed at the expense of others. Only in conditions of security is non-bloc economic cooperation is possible, the deputy minister stressed.
"Most partners in the region share our approaches," Morgulov said. This applies both to individual states and to such important regional organizations as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
According to the Russian diplomat, the main challenge to security in the region is the current situation on the Korean peninsula. "The continuing nuclear missile experiments by the DPRK, the buildup of the US military presence, dangerous maneuvers and bellicose rhetoric from both sides - all this has brought the situation to the dangerous edge of a large-scale armed clash with unimaginable and truly catastrophic consequences," he stressed.
Russia, as we know, along with China supported the latest sanctions of the UN Security Council against the DPRK. However, Morgulov noted, Russia does not participate in sanctions that pursue the economic strangulation of North Korea. According to him, it is obvious that the nuclear and missile program will be the last, which the North Koreans will refuse from, whatever deprivations they can suffer.
Russia firmly believes that the North Korean nuclear missile problem can only be solved through negotiations, Morgulov recalled. Jerry Brown, Governor of the State of California, also called for international cooperation in this area. "We need a frank dialogue between Russia, the US, China and Japan," he stressed. The existing barriers in relations lose their significance in the face of the existential threat, which is the nuclear war. All of them require cooperation at a level that does not yet exist, Brown said. The precise challenge is, that despite the differences in the fundamental attitudes it is necessary negotiate and jointly solve common problems.
As a successful example of a peaceful solution of complex security problems, Brown named the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear program. Tadashi Maeda, Chief Executive Officer of the Japan Bank for International Cooperation (JBIC), supported his statement. He noted that dialogue could be established if the DPRK is satisfied with the realization of JCPOA.
The question of the reasons for the Iranian nuclear deal’s success caused a lively discussion among the participants of the session. The moderator of the session Edward Luttwak, Senior Associate, Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), pointed out that Iran agreed the JCPOA only because otherwise it could be bombed. Igor Morgulov objected, stating that Iran was not motivated by the fear of being bombed, but by understanding what it could get because of the deal. The DPRK, he said, does not yet understand what it will get politically, and what security guarantees it can expect as a result of the negotiations, the Deputy Foreign Minister said.
Also discussed during the session were regional economic and mainly infrastructure initiatives. Stanislav Voskresensky, Deputy Minister of Economic Development of the Russian Federation, noted in his speech, that in recent years the share of countries of the Asia-Pacific region in Russia's foreign trade has increased from 23 to more than 30 percent. In 2016, Russia's trade with China showed a positive trend, increasing by 4 percent, which is significantly higher than the general growth rate of world trade by 1.3 percent. At the same time, Russia became China's only partner with growing trade turnover.
Responding to Luttwak’s comment, who complained about the lack of international flights to Vladivostok airport, Voskresensky said that in February an international consortium led by the Singapore airport operator Changi Airports International completed the acquisition deal. The consortium intends to turn Vladivostok into a regional transport hub, and for the time it manages the airport the number of passengers has grown by 40%.
Russia is also working to solve the second problem mentioned by Luttwak: the insufficient speed of moving goods across Eurasia from east to west due to infrastructural and administrative limitations. According to Voskresensky, a trade facilitation agreement for Eurasia is under development, whose goal is to make the movement of goods across Eurasia more rapid than is provided for by WTO rules. Among the prospective infrastructure projects he spokeabout the further development of the Northern Sea Route and the construction of a bridge from Sakhalin to the Japanese island of Hokkaido.
Russian participants have repeatedly stressed the need of confluence of the regional economic initiatives, such as the Eurasian partnership, initiated by Russia, and China’s Belt and Road project. As Igor Morgulov noted, the main goal of the Russian activity in the region is to create a system that provides stability and prosperity.