3 July 200915:25

Speech by Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov at the ‘Russia’s East and Integration in the Asia-Pacific Region: Challenges and Opportunities’ Conference, Moscow, July 3, 2009


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Esteemed colleagues,

First of all I would like to thank you for the constructive response to our idea to hold a conference on how to draw Russia's eastern areas into integrative processes in the Asia-Pacific Region.

Let me recall that the initiative for this meeting was brought forward a year ago at the conference of Russian ambassadors and permanent representatives abroad, and found support from President Dmitry Medvedev, resulting in the appropriate governmental instruction.

Today, developmental problems in Russia east of the Ural Mountains attract special attention. An additional impulse is imparted to the previously adopted federal target programs and a Strategy for Social and Economic Development of the Far East, the Republic of Buryatia, Transbaikalian Territory and the Irkutsk Region to 2025 is being worked out.

During the past year President Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin have repeatedly traveled to Siberia and the Russian Far East on working visits. On May 21, a conference on cross-border cooperation with China and Mongolia took place in Khabarovsk under the President's chairmanship. Today, also there, the Russian Security Council meets in session to discuss security and socioeconomic development for the constituent entities of the Federation that are part of the Far Eastern Federal District. First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Shuvalov, responsible, among other things, for the preparation of the 2012 APEC summit in Vladivostok, regularly visits the region.

All of this shows that development issues in our country's east are in the field of constant attention of the state's leadership. This requires of us even more vigorous implementation efforts, fresh ideas and new approaches adequate to the challenges of a changing environment.

A discourse on international aspects in dealing with the problem of Siberia and the Russian Far East is really long overdue. And it is very good that today we can discuss these questions in such a broad format – involving the representatives of federal and regional authorities, business and expert circles and also – this, I shall stress, for the first time – the Russian ambassadors to major countries of the region.

The Asia-Pacific Region is a zone of Russia's special interests. Nor can it be otherwise – given that Russia naturally belongs there. And our eastern areas must be a part of this vast Asia-Pacific expanse not only geographically, but also economically. This would enable making full use of the "external resource" for the internal development of Siberia and our Far East.

The APR's role in the world economy is steadily increasing. Here even in conditions of the global financial and economic crisis the dynamic growth of most economies is observed, and far from fading, the integrative processes intensify. The future belongs to this region.

In recent years we resolutely aim our foreign policy at the active development of relations with the AP countries and engagement in the activities of regional integrative associations and multilateral fora. But at the same time we cannot but see that the measures to strengthen the economic link of Russia's eastern regions with the APR remain insufficiently effective, have lags and are being carried out in an unbalanced way. As a result our foreign policy "offensive" in the APR turns out to be without proper commercial and investment reinforcements and cannot rely upon strong economic logistics capabilities.

Yet very favorable, and in some respects I would even say unique, conditions are now evolving for our active integration into the Asian-Pacific economy.

Thanks to the normalization of relations with China and their elevation to a strategic partnership a fundamentally new situation has emerged along our eastern boundary that opens up broad opportunities for the economic development of the border areas and Russia's East as a whole. A traditionally friendly state is Mongolia – an immensely rich "natural storeroom" – in need of cooperation with Russia to tap its national wealth and to develop the economy. Japan shows big interest in investing in our economy, and above all in the economy of Siberia and our Far East. A significant potential lies in the ever-stronger partnership with the Republic of Korea. Bilateral relations are dynamically evolving with the countries that form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

The requisite political framework for accelerating the Siberian and far eastern economy's growing into AP integrative processes has been created with Russian participation in all leading multilateral regional structures. Primary near-term attention should, of course, be paid to the preparations for Russia's chairmanship of the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum in 2012. It depends on us ourselves how effectively we will be able to use the opportunities opening up in this connection to vividly demonstrate to APEC partners the potential of economic interaction between Russia's eastern territories and the AP countries.

The most obvious competitive advantage of Siberia and our Far East – their rich natural resources – is acquiring special value in the conditions of a growing shortage of energy carriers and other raw material goods in the fast developing AP countries. Our oil, gas, coal, other crude minerals, timber and electricity will always enjoy great demand among our neighbors. Of course, this is a plus, at least in the short term.

At the same time to place a long-term bet on the export of these goods means to perpetuate the raw-material character of the economy of Russia's eastern regions and to condemn ourselves to lagging. The country's leadership orients them toward movement along the innovative path of economic development. We must also place this task as paramount in our search for a worthy place for Siberia and the Russian Far East in the AP region.

This calls primarily for the creation of a modern infrastructure, including energy, transport and communications in eastern Russia. A well-thought-out customs and tax policy is needed to help attract foreign investments through creating a favorable investment climate for foreign business. As attested by foreign experience, robust law enforcement and the eradication of corruption are the other essential conditions for success. By combining these measures with the huge possibilities of Siberia and our Far East, including their accumulated scientific-technical potential and highly skilled workforce, we can look forward to a powerful cumulative effect.

Cross-border cooperation should remain an important thrust area for the regions' economic interaction with the outside world. Naturally we should proceed from our own interests here, not "swim with the stream." In particular, we need to ensure that cooperation agreements between Federation constituents and the PRC's neighboring provinces maximally help local business circles in attracting foreign capital and advanced technology to key sectors with due regard to innovative development priorities.

To actively engage the Siberian and far eastern economy in the regional integrative processes, a unified policy is needed – consistent and concerted efforts of the federal center and the Federation constituents. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs naturally retains a coordinating role in the pursuit of international contacts. Simultaneously where more intensive introduction of these regions' products and technologies into AP countries' markets is concerned, all our specialized ministries and departments, primarily the Ministry of Economic Development and Trade and the Ministry of Regional Development should obviously have their weighty say.

I would recommend that the Siberian and far eastern regions exchange information and successful experience and develop common approaches more actively. An important role in the coordination of activities of the Federation constituents in the Asian-Pacific sector belongs to the plenipotentiary presidential representatives in the Siberian and Far Eastern Federal Districts.

I know that today you will discuss all these issues most candidly, not shying away from pin-pointing weaknesses while comparing visions of the situation from different points of view and offering creative remedies for problems. And I would like to stress the high degree of responsibility that rests with you. The present moment objectively gives us a real chance to achieve a breakthrough in a two-fold effort to place the competitive advantages of Siberia and our Far East and the favorable opportunities offered in the AP region at the service of national development and to simultaneously secure a worthy place for Russia in an emerging regional economic architecture.

I hope that the present exchange of opinions will produce practical results. They will be reflected in the report to the President of the Russian Federation, which we plan on preparing in the wake of our conference.

Thank you for your attention.

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