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  • DIALOGUE ON ACHIEVING SECURITY THROUGH TRACK II DIPLOMACY: THE ROLE OF SCIENTISTS AND EXPERTS FROM RUSSIA AND ASEAN MEMBER STATES

    01 September 2016

    Regional security, an issue of interest for both Russia and the ASEAN countries, was discussed as part of the Russia–ASEAN University Forum, which is taking place on the margins of the Eastern Economic Forum.

    Session moderator Tan Sri Mohamed Jawhar Hassan, the former Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the ASEAN Institute of Strategic and International Studies (Malaysia), highlighted the fact that 2016 marks 20 years of partnership between Russia and ASEAN. A comprehensive plan of action to further this partnership over the next five years was adopted in May this year in Sochi.

    Fyodor Voitolovsky, Deputy Director of the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations (IMEMO) of the Russian Academy of Sciences, noted in his presentation that the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) has accumulated a wealth of experience and done a great deal of work to advance political, economic, and trade dialogues. For the most part, this work has been on issues which diplomats are currently ill-equipped to respond to, insofar as the global situation is changing rapidly and becoming ever more multifaceted.

    Given the current political and economic leadership of the US, these dialogues play an ambiguous role. Discussion of the most sensitive questions takes place largely on American terms.

    During the Cold War, Russia found its opportunities narrowed, and limits on the range of questions which could be discussed openly. The country did everything possible to support such informal negotiations.

    After the end of the Cold War, a significant geopolitical realignment took place. New countries began to take the lead in economic development, namely the ASEAN nations.

    In the 1990s and 2000s, the work of various expert communities and groups took on a much greater intensity, in recognition of the fact that security is a concern in every part of the world. The number of networks and channels for dialogue at the global level is increasing. Track II (as opposed to track I, official diplomacy) is of great importance for dialogue on sensitive issues.

    MGIMO takes a flexible approach to dialogue through unofficial channels. A number of expert communities, each with its own particular features, is flourishing in the Asia-Pacific region, including in China and Japan. These communities play an active role in dialogue on current global security issues.

    Yusof Bin Ahmad, a professor at Universiti Teknologi MARA in Malaysia, also believes that track II should serve to bolster the work of official diplomacy. There is a pressing need to implement the programme adopted in Sochi by 2020, and for Russia to ratify the ASEAN security protocol. The sharing of information and staff should also be expanded, a roadmap developed, and a trade agreement signed. Consideration should also be given to multilateral partnership between ASEAN, the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), especially with regard to the energy sector.

    To solve the problems facing track II, there must be coordination and agreement between both tracks, transparency and openness are essential, and efforts are required to overcome the lack of trust and eliminate parochial interests.

    Vladimir Kolotov, Head of the Far East History Department of the Faculty of Asian and African Studies and Director of the Ho Chi Minh Institute at St. Petersburg State University, gave a presentation on ‘The East Asian Arc of Instability and Major Security Issues in Southeast Asia’. The East Asian Arc of Instability is a security tool.

    During his presentation, Mr Kolotov stressed that the ASEAN member nations have grown in stature, while the European Union has seen its economic potential decline. The GDP of the ASEAN countries is overtaking that of the EU and the US, but this is not reflected in their political influence. This is one of the fundamental contradictions of the modern era.

    Instability is being deliberately cultivated among the ASEAN countries – the so-called Arc of Instability. Russia supports equal security for all. At the seventieth session of the UN General Assembly, President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin said that security should be for everyone, and not just the chosen few. Preserving the East Asian Arc of Instability will only lead to an arms race.

    There is a systemic problem, in which external powers are tempted to use Southeast Asian countries in the service of their own interests, without giving consideration to the interests of those countries, in turn significantly lowering their political status.

    The major threats to Southeast Asian countries are geopolitical rivalry between China and the US, territorial disputes, the drug trade, and foreign military bases which leave them vulnerable to manipulation and coups.

    It was recommended that the Southeast Asian countries refuse any interference in their internal affairs by other countries, and focus on joint economic programmes, the withdrawal of foreign military bases, disarmament, and the resolution of territorial disputes.

    Russia is a reliable partner, standing for the full sovereignty of all Southeast Asian countries.

    Ekaterina Koldunova, Deputy Dean of the School of Political Affairs and a leading expert at the MGIMO ASEAN Centre, noted in her report that new economic and political trends are emerging across Southeast Asia. Russia is attempting to secure its own geopolitical and economic interests in the Far East and the Asia-Pacific region. Waves of industrialization in Japan and China, from development to slowdown, raise questions about development trends among the ASEAN member nations.

    A general problem is that GDP per capita levels are stuck at USD 10,000. Another pressing concern lies in the creation of innovative products, which is dependent on modern infrastructure, something that is lacking in various countries and regions. Furthermore, there must be a plan for constructive partnership and the implementation of common plans.

    Russia is a friendly neighbour and reliable partner, but its voice is still weaker than that of the US or China. The potential of the Russian Far East must be built upon, and comprehensive, sustainable links established with ASEAN member states.

    Sergey Sevastianov, Director of the FEFU Asia-Pacific International Institutions and Multilateral Cooperation Studies Centre, noted that Russia is today viewed as an economically and politically isolated country. Over the past ten years, trade between Russia and the Asia-Pacific countries has increased tenfold, and is now worth USD 22 billion per year. There has also been a concurrent rise in tourist numbers. Partnership between ASEAN, the EAEU, and the SCO should be developed.

    Russia must contribute new initiatives to this partnership, overcoming ideological differences and establishing a new security framework in the Asia-Pacific region.

    The Russian Far East must play a significant role in this process, making its mark on the format of the dialogue as a whole. Measures to strengthen trust should be promoted with as much patience as possible, without missing any opportunities or wasting time, allowing discussion to turn into action in the fields of energy, nuclear security, science, and education, and creating a new security framework in the Asia-Pacific region.

    Security should not be achieved in part, but universally. It should be a common good, and not something which comes at the expense of someone else.