Russia too is aiming to pivot to Asia – or so it says. The Russian Federation hosted the annual APEC Economic Leaders Meeting for the first time in Vladivostok to underscore its presence in East Asia. But this isn’t the first time that Russia – and the Soviet Union before it – has launched a “go East” initiative, when in fact the country is more naturally focused on the West and Europe.
In this Global Times essay, Dmitri Trenin, director of the Carnegie Moscow Center, writes that “giving up on the [Russian] Far East is not an option, any more than ‘closing’ it from outsiders again. Asian dynamism will keep the Russian leaders awake at night. So much for the Asia-Pacific as a resource for Russia. What can Russia offer in return? Not much, for the time being. Russia’s share in the APEC members’ foreign trade is a puny 1 percent. Yet, it would be foolhardy to entirely discount Russia. Even in its present shape, the country is a repository of valuable natural resources: energy, metals and timber. These can and should be explored more widely and exploited more efficiently, as well as delivered to the prospective customers, but this will essentially be enhancing Russia’s “specialization” as a base of raw materials for both the developed and emerging economies. Russians need not be ashamed of their richness in resources, but they certainly ought to do better than just mining and chopping.”
There is a lot that Russia and Russians can do in the Asia-Pacific region. They, too, need to begin investing in the region. They need to consider joining free trade regimes with other countries. They need to see themselves in the 21st century as a Euro-Pacific country, and act accordingly.
Can Russia finally become a real player in the Asia-Pacific – rather than an interested bystander?