Going East: Russia’s Asia-Pacific Strategy

25 december 2010

Russia’s Asia-Pacific Strategy

CSCAP - the Russian National Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific

Resume: The 21st-century imperatives offer a new view of Russia as a Euro-Pacific country, not merely European or Eurasian. This implies Moscow has to come up with strategic initiatives on the continental scale, using the benefits of the European integration experience. These should be economic initiatives in the first place.

The Pacific Strategy of Russia was drawn by the Russian National Committee of the Council for Security Cooperation in Asia Pacific (CSCAP) for a meeting with the Russian President in July 2010.

In the late 1990s, Chinese politicians unofficially brought forward the following stratagem: “Lean on the North, stabilize the West and go South.” Russia, for its part, could formulate its geopolitical course for the decades to come as follows: “Lean on the West, stabilize the South and go East.” The West is the prime source of high technologies and high-quality investments; the South packs the key threats to the country’s security, while the East provides markets for energy resources, raw materials and technologies and offers new areas for bilateral and international cooperation.

The 21st-century imperatives offer a new view of Russia as a Euro-Pacific country, not merely European or Eurasian. This implies Moscow has to come up with strategic initiatives on the continental scale, using the benefits of the European integration experience. These should be economic initiatives in the first place.

THE BENEFITS OF GOING EAST

The shift of the world development to the Asia-Pacific region has been the mega trend of the past few decades. Asia-Pacific is becoming the engine of the world civilization – the role that Europe has been playing for the past five centuries. This is happening due to the region’s economic upturn and the obvious crisis of the Euro-Atlantic idea of globalization. Leaning on traditionalism and ethical values, Asian countries are implementing in practice the concept of a multipolar world order.

The Asia-Pacific region (including North America) accounts for the bulk of the gross world product. The region hosts the world’s largest economies – American, Chinese and Japanese, which in the future will be joined by two more economic giants – India and the Russian Federation. Almost half of the G20 are Asia-Pacific countries: Australia, Canada, China, India, Indonesia, Japan, Russia, South Korea, the United States, and Mexico.

Asia-Pacific comprises major geopolitical centers, above all the United States, which remains the dominant power in the region since World War II. U.S. trade and economic relations with Asia-Pacific countries by far exceed its ties with Europe. China, with a population of over one billion, has a good reason to aspire to the role of the world’s second superpower. India, an active participant in all processes in the region, is becoming an increasingly important global and regional player. Other Asia-Pacific countries include Indonesia, the world’s largest Islamic country, and Australia and New Zealand, which boast the highest level of development in the Southern Hemisphere. The globalization is intensifying economic interdependence and interpenetration of interests, which is a factor of regional stability. At the same time, the region is economically heterogeneous and fragmented.

The Asian part of Asia-Pacific is the world’s key test range for working out a model of political modernization which is viewed here not as Westernization, but a special way of development based on a synthesis of democratic forms of government and autochthonic political culture. Treading along this path, the region has posted impressive economic growth. This model is characterized by the priority establishment of an economic basis and legal groundwork for economic liberalism. It gradually enforces the norms of constitutional law and “measures out” democratization, depending on the society’s ability to “digest” political changes. In implementing this model, all of the East-Asian countries that have attained economic prosperity used different forms and pace, but the basic parameters have remained unchanged.

The non-Western Asian-type democracy may take the form of national constitutional-liberal democracy, as in Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, India, Sri Lanka, and South Korea. Or it may evolve into non-liberal democracies (authoritarian republics, “administrative democracies,” or constitutional monarchies) or participatory democracies into non-Western ones: Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia. In other words, these countries have synthesized certain democratic principles with the specifics of their political culture and the religious composition of society and the state. For example, in India, a Westminster model parliament coexists with the caste system, while in Sri Lanka the Buddhist statehood coexists with democracy. Malaysia practices a special role of Islam and the syncretic ideology of Pancasila, which limits Islam and ensures religious pluralism, while Indonesia practices soft domination of Islam. Limitations of certain freedoms and the dominant charismatic leader (minister mentor) coexist in Singapore. China has a local brand of Marxism, limited Party democracy, direct elections at the basic level, and the Confucian ethics. Vietnam practices a symbiosis of the Chinese-Confucian model and the Soviet political system.

The Russian Federation is an Asia-Pacific country, too, although it has not been very aware of this capacity. The main obstacle which has been hard to surmount is the Russians’ – and particularly the Russian political and economic elites’ – disdainful attitude towards Asia as a secondary region of the world. In the Russian Far East, the people complain that this kind of outlook downgrades the eastern regions to a “raw-materials appendage of the parent state” and a “military-political outpost in an alien and hostile Asia.” Other countries of the region often do not regard Russia as an Asia-Pacific country, because its demography, economy and politics largely follow European patterns.

Moscow did try to change the situation, assuming that the region’s role in world politics would be growing and that the fate of the Russian state as a global player would be increasingly determined by the place of its Asian part in the new global economic order. The first attempt to integrate into Asia-Pacific was made in the middle of the 19th century, and the second – at the turn of the 20th century. Both were motivated by the fear to lose these territories to Britain, France and, later, Japan. The third attempt was made in the 1930s and the fourth – at the present time. Yet Russia’s role, although growing, is still marginal.

REGIONAL INSTABILITY PITFALLS

There has been a serious potential of conflicts in the Asia-Pacific region. It was here that World War II began in the early 1930s, with the Japanese occupation of China and Southeast Asian countries. Not surprisingly, the memory of World War II in the region evokes far stronger emotions than on the European continent.

The beginning of the 21st century has been marked by several factors of instability in Asia-Pacific.

The first and major factor is the rapid growth of defense spending, with China, Japan, India and South Korea maintaining the leading positions. The United States keeps massive military presence in the region, building up its powerful system of strategic and tactical missile defense system.

Second, there has been a dramatic increase in the imports of conventional armaments, defensive and even offensive, such as missiles and aircraft.

Third, the problem of proliferation and stockpiling of nuclear weapons has visibly aggravated. Aside from the official “nuclear club” countries – Russia, the U.S. and China – another three countries – India, Pakistan and North Korea – have come in possession of nuclear weapons.

Fourth, tensions persist on the Korean Peninsula. Having acquired nuclear weapons, North Korea noticeably toughened its position and withdrew from the six-party talks in the spring of 2009. Its relations with South Korea have worsened. The U.S. and China have become more conspicuous in their policies on the peninsula due to a possible change of power in North Korea.

Fifth, there is a problem of trust, or even plain animosity, in relations between certain Asia-Pacific countries. Territorial disputes abound, involving Japan, Russia, South Korea, China and some ASEAN member-states. Conflicts over the use of forest and water resources, fishing and borders of economic zones are not infrequent, and the possibility of the economic confrontation escalating to a political one cannot be ruled out. New cross-border challenges include the aggravation of religious/ethnic conflicts, sea piracy, environmental and natural disasters, and epidemics.

Sixth, the Afghan conflict has been escalating and spilling over into Pakistan.

Seventh, there is a contradiction between the strengthening of the defense might of a number of new, more active and stronger players in the Asia-Pacific region and the existing system of bilateral and multilateral military-political alliances, which arbitrarily undertook the responsibility for security in the region.

Eighth, fear is felt again in Asia-Pacific of a bipolar confrontation – perhaps hypothetical – between the U.S. and China. Anxious to avoid it, the countries of the region are seeking to incorporate the two powers into the common system, which would guarantee against such a conflict.

This brings to the forefront the need for a regional architecture that would help to prevent and resolve conflicts and create stimuli for cooperation.

THE ASIA-PACIFIC ARCHITECTURE

The Asia-Pacific architecture took several decades to evolve.

The Cold War was the first stage in its evolution, when the region served as a sort of backyard in the bipolar confrontation.

The second stage began with the end of the Cold War. Asia-Pacific launched multi-lateral regional bodies and integration processes, the ASEAN Regional Forum became a pan-Asian platform of dialogue at the ministerial level, and in 1989 the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) organization was established. The new vectors of regional development did not upset the established balance of forces, nor did they question the military-political superiority of the U.S. and Japan’s economic sway in the region.

The third stage began with the Asian crisis of 1997, which had far-reaching consequences. New centers of power, economic growth and military might sprouted in the region. New “economic engines” emerged which began to pull the “cars” earlier attached to other “locomotives.” Asia-Pacific lost its inner balance and stepped up the search for new ways for interaction in the region, above all in the economy. The ASEAN Plus Three forum became the basis of a new financial mini-architecture for a sub-region. These developments did not suit all players, above all those sidelined from the process.

The global economic crisis of 2008-2009 showed the resilience of Asia-Pacific countries and may become a new stage in regional integration. It originated in the United States, and it was mostly Asian countries, above all China and India, that ensured a recovery from the crisis. Meanwhile, the G8 showed its insufficiency – if not ineffectiveness – and gave way to the G20 as the key anti-crisis mechanism.

The crisis has contributed to a more intensive interaction in the region in finance. Asia-Pacific countries are gradually implementing the long-standing idea of an Asian Monetary Fund and are considering the regulation of financial markets, the creation of an early warning system for financial crises, the issue of Asian bonds, and the broadening of the range of reserve currencies.

One of the paradoxes is that although there are many great powers in the Asia-Pacific region, countries of secondary significance have traditionally been the centers and the driving force behind integration processes there. They are united in ASEAN and have a peculiar political culture. The 27-nation ASEAN Regional Forum, which includes the Russian Federation, functions as the main mechanism of the regional political dialogue on peace and stability, counteraction to modern challenges, and multi-party cooperation in security and confidence-building measures.

The ASEAN Plus One projects with the leading partners play an increasingly important role, but the participation of Russia has a far lesser significance for Southeast Asia than dialogue with the United States, China or Japan. Cooperation within the ASEAN Plus Three format (China, Japan and South Korea) has been gaining momentum. ASEAN countries are also planning to create a free trade zone with China and Japan. At the same time, years-long efforts to promote “preventive diplomacy” in the region for regulating imminent conflicts have had little success due to apprehensions that this may provoke interference from large countries (the U.S. in the first place) in the internal affairs of weaker states that “do not meet the standards.”

The ASEAN Plus Six configuration, or the East Asia Summit mechanism (which was set up in December 2005, with Australia, New Zealand and India as additional members) has been far from perfect so far. It lacks economic foundation, and the integration processes in this part of the world continue to develop within the ASEAN Plus Three framework. Without the U.S. and Russia, this mechanism has been unable to create a balanced inclusive regional architecture.

At the same time, the development of alternative dialogue formats, such as ASEAN Defense Ministers-Plus Eight meetings, provided for by the Hanoi Joint Declaration adopted in May 2010, may reconfigure the security architecture. The optimization of this format may become the main vector in developing regional cooperation in security, and sideline the ASEAN Regional Forum.

APEC, which unites 21 member economies, has a prominent place in the hierarchy of regional organizations. It is one of the few significant regional associations which involve Russia and in which it actively participates. Granting broader political and military-political functions to APEC is not on the agenda, although some countries have made such attempts.

REGIONAL INTEGRATION: SPECIFICS AND DEFICIENCIES

Interaction and coordination of the activities of international organizations and forums within the Asia-Pacific region remains an open question.

Economic integration in the Asia-Pacific region is implemented through preferential trade agreements, of which more than 50 have been signed. The mushrooming free trade zones may spread to all countries in the region in the next few years. The establishment of bilateral and multi-lateral free trade zones contributes to the rapprochement of the countries within these zones. On the other, this creates additional obstacles to trade and economic cooperation between the closed trade blocs and non-members. Protectionism has increased amidst the global financial and economic crisis. The insufficiently developed transport infrastructure and service lines, and imperfect national legislations stand in the way of free movement of goods, capital and services.

The key intrigue of integration in the region is the ratio between the roles of the U.S. and China and the possibility of interfacing their interests. So far, we have seen considerable fluctuations in U.S. policy – from attempts to arrange a sort of U.S.-Chinese condominium (G2) to re-arming Taiwan and supporting Tibetan and Uyghur separatists.

The U.S. has bilateral military alliances with many countries, especially with Japan, Australia, South Korea, the Philippines and Thailand. In addition, Washington has mechanisms of bilateral consultations with all other countries of the region, proceeding from the assumption that any Asia-Pacific integrating body must reflect the fundamental role of the United States and the system of its alliances.

In many ways, these blocs create dividing lines in the region and cause mutual mistrust and suspicions, forcing countries outside “the U.S. umbrella” to seek additional possibilities to enhance their own security.

However, there is an obvious weakening of U.S. influence on regional security. Specifically, Washington is experiencing serious difficulties in keeping the strategic initiative in settling the conflicts on the Korean Peninsula and in Afghanistan.

Russia and the U.S. cooperate on regional security problems, but this cooperation has been rather selective: while it has been relatively efficient and regular in addressing the problems of nuclear proliferation, the North Korean issue, or assistance to the U.S./NATO in combating Islamists in Afghanistan, in other fields it has been low-key or even non-existent.

China’s role in the Asia-Pacific region has increased due to its growing weight in the regional and global economies, the fast build-up of its military potential and the improvement of its characteristics, including the nuclear missile potential, the Air Force and the Navy.

Regional politicians, experts and military specialists give various assessments of the rise of China – from the hope that Beijing will use its newly gained power to maintain political and military stability to apprehensions that China may establish total strategic domination over the region. It should be borne in mind, however, that direct diktat and domination is alien to the Chinese traditions. China has been increasing its influence in the region through economic penetration and soft power. Beijing seeks “harmonious” relations with other countries, but it does not tolerate others dictating their will on it.

This motley picture can hardly be called a full-fledged regional architecture. Rather, the region has a plethora of multi-party institutions of different stages of development, divided and heterogeneous by nature, objectives and composition of their members. There is no pan-Pacific system; each existing format has something or someone missing. Unlike Europe, the Asia-Pacific region has no organization with a mandate to seek comprehensive solutions to political, economic or security problems. There are no documents that would regulate certain security aspects, like the Helsinki Final Act, the Vienna documents on confidence- and security-building measures, or the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe. Lastly, Asia-Pacific has no large blocs, such as NATO, or continental bodies like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Council of Europe or the European Union. Arms control in the region is not regulated within legal or institutional frameworks, and there is no effective mechanism in the region to settle conflicts.

A distinctive feature of Asia-Pacific organizations is that they have a loose structure, and their decisions and agreements are not binding. Such organizations function on consensus, trying to take into account the opinions of all the participants.

DEVISING A NEW REGIONAL ARCHITECTURE

Many Asia-Pacific countries increasingly feel the need for a comprehensive model of cooperation and security. It could be built around the ASEAN Regional Forum and an extended East Asia Summit. The concept of network diplomacy is becoming increasingly popular, i.e. the establishment of a partnership network of multilateral associations in the region. The region is considering merging several regional platforms, for example the ASEAN Regional Forum with the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, or the East Asia Summit with APEC, so that regional cooperation acquire both political and economic dimensions.

Some have suggested creating an Asia-Pacific G8 comprising the United States, Japan, China, Russia, India, South Korea, Australia and Indonesia. There are also plans to institutionalize ASEAN + 8, including defense ministers’ and summit meetings, as an “umbrella” structure that would coordinate security efforts in the region, while APEC will continue handling economic issues. Also, there is a growing interest in the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement, which unites Singapore, Brunei, New Zealand and Chile. Speaking in Tokyo and Singapore in 2009, Barack Obama proposed consolidating the Trans-Pacific Partnership as the foundation of a future free trade zone across the Asia-Pacific region.

There are many supporters of an idea to build a regional architecture on the basis of new or existing free trade zones. The question is which zone should be taken as the basis. Some call for setting up a free trade zone for the entire region, while others maintain it should be built around ASEAN Plus Three.

Japan has proposed establishing an East-Asian Community on the basis of ASEAN Plus Three or ASEAN Plus Six, with the possible participation of the U.S. but without Russia. The Community would focus on developing the existing trade and economic ties and establishing free trade zones. Tokyo also proposes setting up communities in the spheres of healthcare and education.

The Australian idea to create an Asia-Pacific Community envisions cooperation between all the key countries of the region, including the U.S. and Russia. Several possible scenarios to implement this concept were voiced at a special conference in Sydney in December 2009. One scenario provides for setting up an entirely new body, but it did not gain much support from either the Australian government or other countries. Another scenario envisions a security element to APEC. This idea is of interest, yet it has certain limitations, as India does not fit into this format. In addition, China would resent the membership of Hong Kong and Taiwan.

A scenario that seems more promising to Australians provides for establishing an organization within the ASEAN+6 format that would also include Russia and the United States. This format implies both economic and military-political dimensions. ASEAN is considering how to join in this project and not lose its role in Asian integration. One of the options is to convert the ASEAN Regional Forum into a mechanism of summit-level contacts at ASEAN+8. It would “absorb” the East Asia Summit and build partner relations with APEC. Diplomats are puzzling over whether the summits of these forums can be combined.

The U.S. has not taken a clear stand on the above concepts yet; meanwhile, its position is crucial for the stability of a future association. Asia-Pacific will continue lagging behind Europe in terms of integration in the foreseeable future. In addition, ASEAN member-states which are in the center of integration processes are suspicious and jealous about any attempts to create structures that may sideline them in regional integration.

Russia has a flexible position on a new regional architecture, holding that a future pan-Pacific system must have a niche for Russia. Regrettably, sidelining Moscow is possible if it is not active enough.

There are objective reasons behind the discussions about a new security and cooperation architecture, and this implies that a new architecture is inevitable. This architecture should be comprehensive in nature; it should not focus on a narrow range of problems, for example, economic integration. It should also encompass security and other fields, including the humanitarian one. The process will require considerable efforts to find a common denominator, maximum regard for the interests of all players, and non-traditional approaches. Most importantly, this process requires political will from all the participants.

So far, Asia-Pacific states have largely been sidelining Russia in hammering out common positions. Moscow must become a full-fledged participant in the process. For a start, it should offer the Asia-Pacific region a coherent concept of regional architecture and Russia’s role in it, which would take into account the interests of the greatest possible number of partners. It would be logical and effective to bring forward this concept at an APEC summit, to be held in Vladivostok in 2012. Prior to that, Moscow must engage in extensive diplomatic efforts to enlist maximum support for the concept. Russia may work out its new foreign-policy doctrine together with a program of action to strengthen its positions in Asia-Pacific, to be presented by the government before the end of this year.

The basic provisions may include the following. The main task for Asia-Pacific countries is to overcome the existing dividing lines, and build an integral structure using the available “abutment stones” and “bricks” and seeking the establishment of a common security and cooperation space.

The Asia-Pacific region, with its contrasts and problems, needs a multi-dimensional, multi-layer architecture of security and development, which would be based on the principles of collectivism, equality, transparency and the universally acknowledged norms of international law. The future architecture will be effective only when there are no more dividing lines in the region and when regard for the interests of each participant becomes a routine practice.

In the present conditions, it would be most realistic to go along the way of developing horizontal ties in the spirit of network diplomacy, and creating partnership ties between multilateral organizations and forums. It is a demand of the times that the Asia-Pacific region build a cooperative, transparent and multi-polar system of regional security and cooperation, which would rest upon the principles of collectivism, norms of international law and indivisible security for all states in the region.

The institutional structure of a future regional architecture could be based on the following criteria:

  • inclusiveness of the composition and broad geographic coverage;
  • diversification of activities;
  • the presence of practical experience in cooperation;
  • a potential for creating a regional community and common identity;
  • support from countries of the region that are not members of any  association.

Military aspects of regional security and stability and the shaping of mechanisms for their solution should also be part of discussions under way in the Asia-Pacific region. Obviously, one can hardly agree that the system of military bases and bilateral military alliances created in the region under the U.S. aegis can guarantee security in the region and be an alternative to a true security and cooperation architecture.

RUSSIA’S STRATEGIC PRIORITIES IN THE REGION

Russia should integrate into the Asia-Pacific region through intensive economic and social development of Siberia and its Far East as part of the unified industrial sector of the Russian Federation. It is there that the government should channel capital in the first place – along with innovations and human resources – and should create a favorable business environment. The government’s efforts must focus on the Far Eastern region’s competitive advantages: natural resources (above all, fuels), the transit potential, and technological potential (for less developed countries). In Siberia and the easternmost provinces, Russian and foreign investors should be offered preferential investment terms and free economic zones.

Russia must fully tap its energy, transport, R&D, innovation and raw-material potentials in its own interests and in the interests of the entire Asia-Pacific region. The federal target program “Economic and Social Development of the [Russian] Far East and Transbaikal for the Period Till 2013” and the strategy for co-development of Eastern Siberia and Russia’s Far East with China’s northeastern regions can play an important role in these efforts.

The geostrategic position of Russia as a Eurasian country that can bridge Europe and Asia can boost its global and regional role. Today, communication between these two powerful regions (as well as America) is done along bypass routes, through the Indian and Pacific Oceans. Shipping at least part of cargos by trans-Asian railways and highways would bring tremendous benefits to transit and customer countries, as it would dramatically reduce the cost and timing of cargo transportation.

Northeast Asia occupies a special place in the Asia-Pacific geopolitical and economic space, as it is an area where the interests of the largest and most influential Asia-Pacific countries closely interweave. At the same time, there are no effective security or stability mechanisms in the area. Russia has repeatedly raised the issue of the structure of dialogue, which could cover a broad range of problems – from economy, energy and environment to disarmament, terrorism, and confidence-building measures in Northeast Asia. The mechanism of the six-party talks on the nuclear problem of the Korean Peninsula could be used as a basis for such a dialogue structure. Earlier, within the framework of the six-party talks, Russia presented a draft of “Guiding Principles for Ensuring Peace and Security in Northeast Asia.”

Russia should more actively use its leadership over a Northeast Asia peace and security mechanism, one of the five working groups at the talks. However, the talks broke down due to North Korea’s position on nuclear disarmament and the sinking of the South Korean Navy’s corvette Cheonan, which became a pretext for Pyongyang’s isolation. It is important to resume the talks, perhaps through the convocation of a multi-party diplomatic conference on Korean settlement (as envisioned in the post-war accords), involving the six participating states plus the United Nations or under its aegis.

Moscow should step up its dialogue with ASEAN. The 2nd ASEAN-Russia summit, held in Hanoi in the autumn of 2010, was an important event in these efforts. Also, Russia’s chairmanship of APEC in 2012 is expected to significantly contribute to its integration with the Asia-Pacific region. The number one task is to make the future summit in Vladivostok successful and Russia’s APEC chairmanship effective.

Another important development was the admission of Russia to the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) at the 8th ASEM summit in Brussels, held in October 2010.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) may play a major role in Eurasian processes through the implementation of its trans-Asian projects and as its role in Asia-Pacific affairs grows. This vector of the SCO’s development was codified in the 2004 Tashkent Declaration of Heads of the SCO Member States, which set the task of creating a partnership network with other international bodies and forums active in the Asia-Pacific region.

As regards Russia’s principal partner, China, there is no alternative to the policy of friendship, furthering dialogue, building political and military-political confidence, and developing trade, investment and joint projects, especially considering the growing imbalance in power between the two countries. However, Russia should be prudent in this policy, remember its own interests and take an instrumental approach in its relations with China. It should avoid extremes: anti-Chinese alarmism, on the one hand, and excessive laudation of China’s achievements, on the other.

Mutually advantageous trade and economic relations with China should include:

  • renouncing any actions in Russia’s China policy that might worsen the position of Russia and its population;
  • establishing innovation companies in Russia in cooperation with China with regard to labor resources;
  • reducing the volume of direct exports of Russian non-processed raw materials to China;
  • establishing industrial enterprises (perhaps using U.S. or Japanese investments) to process raw materials, and selling semi-finished products to China, while steadily increasing Russia’s share of added value;
  • creating and financing a mechanism of permanent dialogue between Russian and Chinese scientists, and expanding the teaching of Oriental languages and Oriental studies;
  • expanding interaction between law-enforcement bodies;
  • taking dedicated measures to improve the image of Russia in China.

In relations with Japan, Russia should proceed from an understanding that issues of the post-war settlement are resolved in the Joint Declaration of 1956 and the agreements and accords the two countries have since concluded. As concerns the “peace treaty” issue, it would be preferable to propose signing a “Treaty on Peace, Friendship, Cooperation and Security,” or a “Treaty of Good Neighborly Relations and Cooperation,” which would determine the foundations and principles of relations between the two countries in this century. Then, Russia would be ready to address the problem of border demarcation within the framework of a separate border agreement, which is in line with international practice. It would hardly be right to emphasize the “exclusive importance” of Japanese technologies and investments, which are allegedly crucial for implementing development programs in Russia’s Far East.

It is very important that the federal center and regional authorities provide greater and more systemic support for the Kuril Islands and focus on the development of territories bordering on Japan and improvement of the investment climate. The federal program for “The Social and Economic Development of the Kuril Islands in 2007-2015”, approved in 2006, should be placed under special control of the presidential envoy in the Far Eastern Federal District, with a view to making the islands Russia’s “showcase” in the Asia-Pacific region.

As for the hottest conflict zone near Russia’s Asian borders, the Korean Peninsula, priority must be given to efforts to maintain peace and stability in the area. There are no reasons to hope for an early collapse of the North Korean regime. It is important to create conditions for North Korea’s positive evolution and economic progress, which would help reconcile it with the neighbors and ease tensions. Only such evolution of the regime can eventually make North Korea’s “nuclear deterrent” redundant, and lead to denuclearization in a more distant future.

It would be more realistic to strive towards the freezing of North Korea’s nuclear missile potential, rather than seek early denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Pyongyang could make a verifiable commitment not to aspire to the status of a nuclear state and to comply with the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (perhaps, having a special status in it).

The maintenance of normal dialogue with the North Korean leadership is a key to strengthening Russia’s positions on the Korean Peninsula. This dialogue should be intended to have a positive impact on Pyongyang, which would cause other countries to take Russian interests seriously. Russia should create an economic niche for itself in North Korea, especially within the framework of tripartite projects involving South Korea.

South Korea is becoming Russia’s third largest economic partner in Asia and a “balancer” in its relations with China and Japan. But Moscow should avoid conflicts with South Korea over the “North Korean issue” in building a strategic partnership with it.

The discontinuation of the six-party talks should prompt Moscow to come out with initiatives that would prevent its being sidelined from the Korean settlement process. It is in Russia’s interests to promote a concept of creating a multilateral mechanism for ensuring security in Northeast Asia as the basis of a new peace-keeping regime in Korea.

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