Opinion / Op-Ed Contributors

Rebalancing Russia's foreign relations

By Mikhail L. Titarenko (China Daily) Updated: 2012-03-06 08:14

The geopolitical position of Russia, with its 10 time zones stretching for over 11,000 kilometers East to West, dictates a balanced approach to the development of its Euro-Atlantic and Asia-Pacific relations.

Historically, European and Orthodox-Christian cultures formed the foundations of Russian civilization, but Asian components, including the cultural influence of many neighboring Turk nations, as well as the great Chinese, Indian and Iranian civilizations, eventually intertwined organically with Russia's culture and in their common manifestation in the country are perceived as indigenously Russian.

The question of Russia's Euro-Asian identity is of principal importance. It plays an important role in the development of domestic and foreign policy strategies. Emphasizing Russia's European identity would result in a Euro-centrist sag in domestic policy, a quasi-colonial attitude to development of Russia's Eastern regions and insufficient attention to ties with Russia's Asian neighbors.

A look at the map showing the network of oil and gas pipelines from Siberia to Europe and the sole oil pipeline to the East is evidence of the country's previous political and commercial bias in favor of Europe.

This Europe-oriented approach was broken after Vladimir Putin was elected president in 2000. "Russia is a big and complex state located both in Asia and Europe Russia relied and will always rely on two wings the European and the Asian ones, the more so when we talk about such a powerful country as the People's Republic of China," he said, shortly after he was elected president then.

In the course of the current election campaign Putin published a series of articles on issues of foreign and domestic policy, in which he repeatedly highlighted the priorities of Russia's foreign-policy orientation and emphasized the need for the balanced development of Russia's relations with both Europe and Asia, including the neighbor states of South and Central Asia.

In the article, "Russia and the Changing World", Putin for the first time brought Asia-Pacific relations to the fore. He strongly emphasized that China is Russia's biggest and most dynamically growing neighbor and China's rise is not a threat but rather a stimulating challenge. In Putin's view, Russian-Chinese cooperation will bring grand opportunities for rise of Russia.

Putin's emphasis on Asia-Pacific relations is predetermined by the following facts: First, East Asia, indeed the whole Asian-Pacific region, is ever-more effectively asserting itself as a new global political and economic center accounting for more than 50 percent of global GDP growth. Second, the growing influence of the region makes it an especially timely task to build up the economic potential of Russia's eastern regions. Therefore, Putin and his team invariably focus their attention on the need to accelerate the economic growth of Siberia and the Russian Far East, and to develop comprehensively Russia's relations with its East Asian neighbors especially with China, which has become a major stabilizing force for world economic growth and a reliable partner.

In this context it is worth noting the value of Russian-Chinese trade and economic relations, which have grown from slightly more than $5 billion in 2000 to more than $80 billion in 2011. At their 16th meeting on Oct 11-12, 2011, the Russian and Chinese prime ministers outlined measures to further expand trade and economic relations between the two countries. The targets are to build up the bilateral trade volume to $100 billion by 2015 and $200 billion by 2020. Realization of these targets will enable the two countries to more efficiently utilize the synergy of their two complementary economies and to form mutually acceptable and efficient mechanisms of economic co-development.

On international issues, Russian-Chinese cooperation through political dialogue has helped to prevent serious escalation of tensions on the Korean Peninsula and actively promoted Asia-Pacific integration. Russia and China have also productively cooperated within the UN on crises in the Middle East and other global issues. As a result of their strategic interaction and partnership, Russia and China actively develop coordinated plans and actions to ensure mutual security and international stability. This is amply evidenced by their positions on the territorial integrity of one another and on their approaches to the Iran and Democratic People's Republic of Korea's nuclear issues. Both countries consistently stand in favor of building an open, transparent and equal security-and-cooperation system in Asia-Pacific, and realization of the Russian-Chinese joint initiative, set forth by the two presidents in September 2010, on cooperation in strengthening Asian-Pacific security.

All this suggests that Russia will consistently and firmly push forward the time-tested buildup and development of good-neighborly relations, friendship and partnership with China.

The author is president of Russia-China Friendship Association and director of Institute of Far Eastern Studies, affiliated to the Russian Academy of Sciences

(China Daily 03/06/2012 page10)

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