On September 4, the Valdai Club hosted a presentation of the Valdai Report “Russia and Asia: Paradoxes of a New Reality” ahead of the Club’s session at the Eastern Economic Forum 2023, featuring Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Rudenko. Timofei Bordachev, Programme Director of the Valdai Club, moderated the event.
Andrei Rudenko, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, stressed that although Russia has always pursued a multi-vector policy and this has traditionally been its strength, now there has been a redistribution of opportunities favouring Greater Asia – a region stretching from New Zealand to Iran. There are some symptoms of turbulence in this region. “Unfortunately, our former partners, primarily the United States of America, have chosen the line of introducing certain elements of bloc approach and confrontationalism into the region and destroying those principles thanks to which it has always flourished,” the diplomat noted, pointing to attempts to tear a number of countries away from the ASEAN-centric space. According to him, from Russia’s point of view, based on openness and transparency, ASEAN should remain the main element of the security and economic system in Asia. “It is not in our interests for this system to change,” Rudenko stressed. He also listed the active participation of Asian countries in such structures as the SCO as an important advantage for Russia in the region.
Alexander Korolev, Deputy Director of the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the National Research University Higher School of Economics, addressed the basic hypothesis of the new report: that Russia’s Asian policy in recent decades did not fit into the framework of the so-called Asian paradox, the essence of which can be reduced to the “hot economy and cold politics” model. This model refers to a combination of complex political relations with the successful development of trade and economic relations. At the same time, Russia offered alternative models of interaction with various Asian countries. If its relations with Japan resembled the classic Asian paradox, then in relations with most of the countries of South and Southeast Asia it was more about “hot politics and cold economics”, and relations with China implied “hot politics and hot economics” for decades – development of warm economic relations and institutional political ties in parallel. The start of the special military operation in Ukraine led to certain adjustments. In particular, it reduced relations with Japan to “cold economics with cold politics”, boosted trade and economic cooperation with India, and brought cooperation with China to a new level.
Rahakundini Bakrie Konni, Jenderal Achmad Yani University expert, analyst in the field of defence, military and intelligence activities of Indonesia, briefly reviewed the main scenarios for the development of the situation in Asia. In her opinion, if the BRICS idea is realized, that is, challenges and threats push Asia and Africa to unite with Russia and China, this will open up many different opportunities. However, for now, the Asia-Pacific region is under the influence of Western policy against Russia in connection with the state of affairs in Ukraine. Separately, she pointed to the minilateralist trends in the region, both in the defence and economic spheres. The dangerous factors, according to her, include polarisation and escalation threats that ASEAN is not able to cope with. In particular, this entails the potential aggravation of the situation in Taiwan and introduction of sanctions against certain Asian countries. The analyst urged to return to the principles of the Non-Aligned Movement and strive to establish a true balance of power.
Ivan Zuenko, Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of International Studies and Associate Professor at the Department of Oriental Studies, MGIMO University, supported the approach of the authors of the report to relations between Russia and China as a relationship of strategic interdependence, and noted that both the reciprocity of this dependence and its strategic nature are important. In the case of China, we are talking about dependence on Russia as a supplier of strategic resources and a purely geographical dependence due to a long, shared land border. From Russia, this dependence requires the development of a comprehensive strategy for economic relations and the diversification of relations with Asian countries. It will not be easy to implement the latter, especially since relations with China partly serve as a modifier in interaction with other countries in the region, Zuenko admitted. On the other hand, the pragmatism of the Asian countries and their inclination towards a multi-vector policy has played in Russia’s favour.