The Russia-ASEAN Commemorative Summit – a major international event dedicated to the 20th anniversary of Russia-ASEAN Dialogue Partnership – will be held in Sochi, Russia, on May 19-20. The event will be held under the slogan «Towards Strategic Partnership for the Sake of the Common Good».
The agenda covers a wide range of issues related to international and regional security and economic progress.
This is the third summit in the history of the Russia-ASEAN bilateral relations. The previous events took place in Kuala-Lumpur, Malaysia, in 2005 and Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2010.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) was formed on August 8th, 1967. The political and economic organization includes ten countries: Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Brunei, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar (Burma) and Vietnam. ASEAN shares land borders with India, China, Bangladesh, East Timor, and Papua New Guinea, and maritime borders with India, China, and Australia.
With the combined population of approximately 625 million people, 8.8% of the world's population, ASEAN covers a land area of 4.4 million square kilometers, 3% of the total land area of the planet. ASEAN territorial waters cover an area about three times larger than its land area.
It won’t be an exaggeration to state that today ASEAN is one of the most successful international organizations in the world. The establishment of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) in 2015 was a major milestone in the regional economic integration agenda.
In 2015, the organization’s combined nominal GDP exceeded $2.6 trillion, while the total turnover of the member-states has recently reached 1.7 trillion dollars. In recent years ASEAN states have shown a breathtakingly rapid and sustained economic progress. Today, the annual GDP growth is around 4.5%. If the group were a single entity, it would rank as the seventh largest economy in the world, behind the US, China, Japan, Germany, France, and the UK.
By all estimates, ASEAN is among the heavyweights of the international politics that functions as a completely independent group. Unlike the EU with its supra-national powers, the organization remains to be an inter-government body with consensus-based decision-making process based on non-interference in domestic affairs.
The development of relations with the ASEAN states would allow Russia to enjoy a significant increase of investments, on top of Russian companies obtaining a number of preferences while making business in the Southeast Asian countries. The Russia-ASEAN trade turnover is around $22.5 billion – an impressive figure! The bilateral economic cooperation of Russia with Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore is a story of success. In the next 3-5 years Russia’s supply of value added goods to ASEAN is projected to reach 10 percent of the group’s imports, said Pyotr Fradkov, head of the Russian Export Center, on May 12 at a press conference dedicated to the upcoming Russia-ASEAN 2016 business forum. «Up to 80 percent of our exports to the ASEAN countries are value added products, not raw materials», Fradkov added.
The summit is also to witness the progress in defense cooperation. Indonesia is expected to sign a deal to procure eight 4.5 generation Su-35 fighters.
The history of Russia Dialogue Partnership could be traced back to July 1991 when Russian representatives attended the opening session of the 24th ASEAN ministerial meeting in Kuala Lumpur by invitation from the Malaysian government. Russia was subsequently elevated to the status of full dialogue partner at the 29th ASEAN ministerial meeting in July 1996 in Jakarta. On November 29, 2004 Russia acceded to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia (TAC). It was a landmark in Russia-ASEAN dialogue relations. Russia participates in a series of consultative forums with ASEAN, including ministerial, senior officials and experts meetings, as well as through dialogue and cooperation frameworks initiated by ASEAN, such as the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), the post ministerial conferences and ASEAN defence ministers meetings. ASEAN and Russia are developing a new program to promote cooperation for the period of 2016–2020 to deepen the partnership.
Recently, Russia has also made a concerted effort to reach out to ASEAN countries politically. In November, 2015, Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev became the first senior Russian leader to visit Cambodia in almost 30 years. The countries signed a host of agreements, including a memorandum of understanding to cooperate in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In April 2015, Medvedev visited Thailand and Vietnam as part of a wider Asian outreach. Russia and Malaysia set up a joint commission for economic, scientific, technical and cultural cooperation in November 2015.
In his comments on the upcoming summit, Russian President Vladimir Putin said, «Our country is actively interacting with the ASEAN ten states in resolving topical international issues, including within the framework of multilateral associations, in which the association plays the central role – the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum, the ASEAN Defense Ministers’ Meeting with Dialog Partners». «The results achieved offer a good basis for bringing the Russia-ASEAN relations to a qualitatively new level of strategic partnership. This is precisely the main goal of the Russia-ASEAN jubilee summit that will be held on May 19–20 in Sochi», he added.
The President emphasized that Russia considers the possibility of establishing diversified contacts between ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Union. It is also important to develop practical cooperation between ASEAN and the SCO.
It should be added that Vietnam was the first ASEAN member to sign the Eurasian Union free trade agreement last year. Thailand could be next. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha is to pay an official visit to Russia back-to-back with the Sochi summit.
The foreign ministers of Russia and the ASEAN member states reached an agreement in 2015 on establishing an ASEAN – Russia eminent persons group (EPG) that included representatives of diplomatic, academic and business circles. The goal is to make assessments and work out recommendations on the ways to intensify and improve the cooperation process. The EPG will submit a report to the participants of the upcoming event.
The summit is expected to adopt a declaration that will lay the basis for an action plan of Russia-ASEAN cooperation in all spheres, including security.
In a broader context, Russia’s hosting of the APEC summit also marks a major step forward in Moscow’s engagement with multinational organizations in Asia. The APEC summit of 2012 was held in Vladivostok. The same year Moscow hosted the Asia Pacific Forum – a regional network of national human rights institutions. Last November, Russia, along with the United States, joined the East Asia Summit (EAS) – a big and important step forward. The multilateral institutional architecture of Asia is in flux, and Russia is a key actor to influence the process.