Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s interview with South Korean media, Moscow, March 23, 2021
Question: We are delighted that you plan on visiting Korea. What topics will you discuss with your Korean counterparts in Seoul?
Sergey Lavrov: The Republic of Korea is our important and promising partner in the Asia-Pacific region. We maintain stable ties with it.
When the two Korean states joined the UN, I was head of the Russian Foreign Ministry Department of International Organisations. We maintained close contact with our friends in the Republic of Korea. I have a very warm recollection of that time. We did a good job. We were genuinely satisfied when both Korean states joined the UN. Since then, we have been actively cooperating at international organisations as well.
During the talks with my colleague, Foreign Minister of the Republic of Korea Chung Eui-yong, we will discuss the current aspects of bilateral affairs. We have not had an opportunity for such in-depth talks for a very long time. We will also discuss a schedule of contacts, which have been suspended because of the coronavirus infection. I hope that following my visit we will be able to gradually resume direct in-person exchanges between our other ministries and agencies.
I think that one of the main topics at our talks will be the efforts to curb the coronavirus infection. We are currently implementing a joint project to produce the Russian Sputnik V vaccine in the Republic of Korea. We know that you have very highly developed pharmaceutical and medical industries. Our cooperation in this sphere will benefit both sides. We sense our Korean partners’ interest in this project.
We will also discuss other fields of bilateral cooperation. Hard joint work is ongoing and good results have been achieved in quite a few spheres. An opportune moment for reviewing our relations in all spheres will be the opening ceremony of the Year of Cultural Exchanges between the Russian Federation and the Republic of Korea. We planned to do this in 2020, but we had to postpone this because of the COVID-19 pandemic. The programme of the year will be launched after all. It includes over 300 events in the political, trade, economic, cultural, humanitarian and other spheres. Their implementation will greatly strengthen the foundation for boosting the further development of our bilateral ties, personal contacts, better understanding between our citizens and mutual interest of our nations to each other.
We will speak about the main subjects on the international and regional agenda, including the situation on the Korean Peninsula. We are doing our best in the interests of maintaining stability and achieving denuclearisation goals on the peninsula. We urge all countries involved, primarily the members of the six-party talks, to take a constructive stand in the military sphere, stop militant activities and promote dialogue. We believe that there is no alternative to negotiations and that it should be resumed as soon as possible.
We will also speak about other Asian-Pacific matters. Interesting processes are underway in the region. Attempts are being made to reform it and to introduce the term Indo-Pacific region. We do not fully understand this. These are alarming processes, because an attempt is being made to create something that would be directly opposite to the ASEAN-based organisations such as the East Asia Summit, the ASEAN Regional Forum and the ASEAN Defence Ministers Meeting, which are unification forums. They involve all Asian-Pacific countries and are designed for conducting a dialogue on the basis of equality and for attaining mutually acceptable compromises and agreements.
The advocates of the Indo-Pacific strategic tilt (they have even changed the terms) say it is the same idea but that it would be developing much more energetically. In point of fact, a closer look at the events held within the framework of the Indo-Pacific strategy will show that they are based on bloc mentality, that is, the establishment of blocs that are not designed to promote a positive process but are spearheaded against certain states. The proclaimed goals include the containment of some states, while other countries are left outside the boundaries of such initiatives. I do not see this as a thing that is positive.
It would be useful to revitalise the principles which we have reaffirmed more than once, namely the preservation of ASEAN’s central role in the development of regional cooperation in all spheres.
Question: What measures would you suggest for improving economic cooperation between Russia and South Korea?
Sergey Lavrov: Our relations are relatively young; they were established only 30 years ago. This is not a long time in terms of history. I believe that we have made considerable progress, and we have no desire to stop. We have far-reaching and forward-looking plans. The leaders of our countries set the task of increasing bilateral trade to $30 billion a year and mutual travel, to 1 million people a year. Of course, the pandemic slowed down our movement towards these goals. Nevertheless, we are resolved to achieve these goals as soon as we see an opening. This is our intention.
We are pinning big hopes on the implementation of the concept of Nine Bridges, which stipulates the development of our relations in priority economic sectors. In October 2020, we signed an action plan for the implementation of this concept. It includes promising cooperation projects, including in the Russian Far East, a region where we are actively attracting our neighbours’ investments. We are highlighting vital sectors such as medicine, shipbuilding, transportation and energy. Our countries have accumulated positive experience in these spheres. The alignment of our efforts will produce a synergic effect.
I would like to note that the East Asia Summit will, hopefully, resume operating normally this year. It is usually held in Vladivostok in the month of September. That is still some time away. We will encourage our friends to continue to make active use of this promising platform.