With its centuries-old experience of being at the crossroads of different cultures and civilizations, Russia is strategically placed to help develop ASEM’s economic goals

In a few days many heads of state and government will take part in the Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM) in Vientiane, Laos.

This forum is justly called unique. Established in 1996, it brings together countries from Europe, South Asia and the Pacific region. In essence, ASEM is a platform for finding answers in a rapidly changing world. On the one hand, our world is characterised by globalisation and increasing global interdependence, and on the other by regionalisation, and the increasing significance of the most rapidly developing regions.

Due to its geographical and cultural diversity, as well as its economic potential, Russia must inevitably play a key role in these processes. Joining ASEM in 2010 was of great importance not only for us and the organisation itself, but also for the entire structure of international relations. It allowed us to literally connect two influential centres for global politics and economics. No wonder Russia is called Eurasian or, as some researchers would have it, a Euro-Pacific country.

It is increasingly clear that sustainable global development requires a system of interconnected yet independent regional integration mechanisms. In western Europe, the main such mechanism is the European Union (EU). Despite its difficulties, it remains the engine of economic development in the so-called old world. Trade with the EU accounts for about 50 per cent of Russia’s trade.

There are several multilateral organisations in Asia, including the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum, which Russia is currently chairing. At the recent summit in Vladivostok, Russian initiatives concerning food security, the development of agro-industry, and preventing the unlawful catching of living marine resources were approved. We underscored the need to develop alternative transport corridors, as well as the work done by centres for crisis management and linking them within a regional network.

Eurasian Economic Union

Russia cooperates actively with the regional forum, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). We are interested in further developing our trade and economic relations with ASEAN members, as well as launching new joint projects, especially in high-tech industries.

Finally, together with its Belarusian and Kazakhstani partners, Russia itself is involved in a large integration project. In 2015 we will found the Eurasian Economic Union, which will be based on the existing Customs Union and Common Economic Space. One of this organisation’s most important tasks is to open national economies and enable them to work more closely with partners, and to create the conditions for establishing a common economic space from Europe’s westernmost point to the Pacific Ocean. The free trade agreement within the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) also serves this purpose. I am convinced that when the Eurasian Economic Union is fully operational, we will be able to remove barriers hindering the movement of goods, capital and services in Eurasia.

In the coming years and decades, Russia faces a major historic task: ensuring the rapid modernisation of its economy based on the harmonious development of its regions. We will give priority to Siberia and the Far East. First, because previously we did not have enough resources to ensure the full development of those parts of the country. Second, given that the global economy’s focus is shifting east, Russia simply must be more active in the Asia-Pacific region. That region is becoming the centre of global economic growth, generating about 55 per cent of global GDP and nearly half of global trade.

Developing transport links

Our country, which occupies about a third of the Eurasian continent, has huge and as yet underdeveloped transport and transit opportunities. Russia’s transport network is relatively well-developed: the Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur railway lines, ports in all oceanic basins, as well as a network of air transport lines and airports that provide shorter routes for transporting goods and correspond with major freight traffic flows. Economic modernisation and liberalisation can result in a significant increase in freight traffic — by at least 15 per cent — between Europe and Asia as well as between Europe, Asia and America. The Trans-Siberian railway is capable of carrying up to 100 million tonnes per year, and this will be the shortest route. Specialised freight trains travel from Nakhodka to Russia’s western borders in nine days, and can reach western Europe in two weeks. Meanwhile, goods take 35 days to travel by sea from various Asian-Pacific ports to Hamburg or Antwerp.

The development of the Northern Sea Route, which is two times shorter than the current route from Europe to eastern Asia through the Indian Ocean, presents us with many promising opportunities. Despite all the associated difficulties, it costs 30 per cent less to ship goods through the Arctic Ocean than through the Indian Ocean. Air transport will play a qualitatively new role. Using Russian airspace and Siberia’s (current and planned) network of airports will be beneficial for all parties, as it will be cheaper to use medium-range aircraft and have them refuel in Russia. This applies first and foremost to flights from Europe to East Asia.

I am convinced that ASEM is a promising platform for discussing the most pressing problems of modern life, from economic sustainability to new technologies and climate change.

The ASEM forum, which groups together intensively developing, ambitious and very diverse countries, is able to articulate the priorities not only of the Eurasian continent but of the entire world. Along with this, both nation states and regional multilateral organisations should participate in such a dialogue.

Russia has long been ready to cooperate to this effect. We have centuries-long experience at the crossroads of different cultures and civilizations which will undoubtedly be useful both in developing ASEM’s intercultural dialogue, and in creating a common economic space from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific.

(Dmitry Medvedev is Prime Minister of Russia.)

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