The fourth annual Eastern Economic Forum starts from September 11, 2018, in Vladivostok, Russian Eastern City. In 2015, this international event was considered by the Russian authorities as a platform for developing business contacts between Russian business and the countries of the Asia-Pacific region.
More than 1.5 thousand officials, representatives of business and expert community from 26 countries of Southeast Asia, Europe and America took part in the first Eastern Economic Forum, more than 90 contracts were signed for the amount exceeding 1.3 trillion rubles. And this despite the fact that many Russian businessmen, as well as their foreign colleagues, at that time did not have a clear idea about the specifics and characteristics of the EEF, arriving there soon with introductory interest.
From year to year, the Forum acquires an increasingly obvious political connotation and becomes an additional tool of the Russian policy of “Reversal to the East”, a platform free from excessive formalism, open and independent dialogue between participating countries. Over the past two years, the Forum has become a meeting place for the President of the Russian Federation V.V. Putin with the heads of the leading countries of Northeast Asia.
In 2016, the Russian leader hosted in Vladivostok Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Pak Kun Hye, in 2017 they were joined by President of Mongolia Battulga. In total, representatives of the business and expert community of more than six dozen countries arrived at EEF-2017, more than 200 agreements were signed with an investment volume of more than 2.5 trillion rubles. According to the results of the Third Eastern Economic Forum, the leaders of foreign countries and investors themselves spoke about the effectiveness of the mechanisms of the new economic policy – the territories of advanced development with significant potential for Russian and foreign companies, the free port of Vladivostok, targeted state support for innovative projects.
All economic measures taken by the Government of the Russian Federation in the Far East are aimed at further expanding the opportunities for economic cooperation between Russia and the Asia-Pacific countries. It is not by chance that following the results of 2017, the Far East became the leader among the Federal Districts in terms of the rate of growth of foreign investment, which increased investments by more than 17 per cent.
As part of the invitation campaign, 3,974 participants were sent to the Eastern Economic Forum in 2018, of which 1,353 are representatives of Russian business and 2,346 are representatives of foreign business. Representatives of 17 foreign countries (Great Britain, Germany, India, Canada, Cyprus, China, the Netherlands, the United Arab Emirates, Jersey, the Republic of Korea, Singapore, USA, Ukraine, France, Switzerland, Japan) confirmed their participation in the EEF. Moreover, the Eastern Forum, which takes place from September 11 to 13, 2018, can become a unique event, taking into account the planned participation of Xi Jinping, the President of the People’s Republic of China, and the expected arrival of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, whose participation is confirmed by many South Korean, Chinese and Russian sources.
In this case, the first in many years the meeting of the heads of all the countries of North-East Asia (Russia, China, South and North Korea, Japan and Mongolia) can take place at the forthcoming Forum in Vladivostok. If negotiations in this composition really take place, it is likely that Moscow or Beijing can take the initiative of holding such meetings annually within the framework of the Eastern Forum.
Such a format of regional cooperation, on the one hand, does not require the creation of cumbersome official interstate structures that provide for a certain protocol, a long-term of agreement and commitment for participants, and on the other hand will provide an opportunity for timely and lively discussion of the most pressing problems of politics and public security in the region, on the Korean peninsula, territorial disagreements in the South China Sea, interaction in the fight against transnational crime and international terrorism.
As the leading areas of economic development and interaction between Russia, China, Japan, North and South Korea, it is expedient to single out the sphere of fishing and forestry, agriculture, light industry, port infrastructure. Increased attention and control requires the issue of the formation and operation of the transport network.
Strategically, Northeast Asia is the geopolitical and economic centre of the entire Asia-Pacific region. It is here that the interests of the largest countries come into contact – the growing and developing the economy of China, which needs new markets and energy resources, Russia with its rich natural resources and territories, a favorable investment climate in the Far East, Japan and South Korea with high-tech production and substantial financial opportunities. In addition, the countries of Northeast Asia are actively interacting with the countries of Southeast Asia, which in the long term forms the most powerful economic “fist” in the Far East, in no way inferior, or even superior to the economic development potential of Europe and the United States.
Over the past few years, the countries of North-East Asia have demonstrated stable growth dynamics, have unlimited potential in many areas of cooperation, be they energy cooperation, food and economic security, education, interaction in the field of innovative technologies. If the new format of contacts between the countries is formed within the framework of the Eastern Forum, the flexibility and dynamics of interstate relations will increase, and there will be further development of sovereignty and responsibility for the formation of the current and long-term course of political and economic interaction of the countries of Northeast Asia.
Certainly, not everything is smooth and in mutual relations the leaders of Northeast Asia – there is a continuing dispute between the Russian Federation and Japan over the ownership of the Kuril Islands, disagreements between China, Taiwan and Japan concerning the ownership of the Senkaku Islands, the complexity of the interaction between North and South Korea, due to both political and ideological differences.
In the context of all of the above, the issue of dialogue between the parties involved over the entire range of existing problems is becoming more urgent, since it is through negotiations, the establishment of good-neighborly relations, the implementation of joint political and economic projects, the gradual smoothing of acute angles and the transfer of heated disputes to a constructive channel. Ultimately, it is the constant and close contact of the leaders of the politically-forming states of the Far Eastern region that will allow the timely and proportionate reaction to the challenges dictated by the current specifics of the international situation.
DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy and position of Regional Rapport.
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Ivan Kessler is German research scholar at University of Vienna, Austria. His research focus is the territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region. He is also co-author of several scientific articles on maritime territorial disputes in the Asia-Pacific region. Also cooperate with the Far Eastern Federal University (Russia) for scientific exchange.