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FACTDROP: Unpacking Russia's stabilizing role in the Asian Pacific


Unpacking Russia's stabilizing role in the Asian Pacific

Πηγή: Diplonews
By Shawnna Robert
Feb 10 2012

In an interview published in the Izvestia newspaper on January 27, 2012, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov directly addressed a perceived Chinese-American struggle for influence in the Asia Pacific region and how Russia plans to maintain its influence. The premiss of the statement is based on a recent shift in policy by the U.S., part of which is inspired by a potential shift in power in the region as a result of China’s military buildup. According to Lavrov, Russia already is a stabilizing factor in the region and hopes to strengthen its role as such in the future. Given the multiple armament and economic security threats in the area, Lavrov said the growing interest in the region is justified. However, he cautioned that it is important that foreign interests must avoid heated confrontationand maintain mutually stimulating partnerships. He claimed a friendly and mutual beneficial relationship with nearly every country in the region, with an emphasis on comprehensive development and multilateral diplomatic dialogue.

In the interview, Lavrov boasted the impact that a 2010 Russian-Chinese proposal for a comprehensive cooperation and security mechanism in the Asia Pacific region could have in laying the foundation for a regional security system based on international law. He hopes these ideas become a unifying factor moving forward, and already has seen some provisions mentioned in high-level bilateral meetings across the region. While the joint Chinese-Russian proposal seemed to garner minimal attention back when it was first announced, Lavrov has brought the initiative up in multiple interviews in the past weeks as he continues to blaze the trail for the upcoming APEC Summit in September. Russia will host the summit, scheduled for September 8th and 9th, and plans an ambitious lineup of events leading up to September. With seven months left until the summit, we can expect to hear more image-building rhetoric from Russia on its role in the Asia Pacific region.

In announcing that the U.S. is entering a Pacific century, the U.S. government has been initiating significant shifts military and diplomatic policy. The most notable change so far is the decision to establish the first American base in Australia. Considering the enormous economic importance the Asia Pacific region has for the U.S., including the manufacturing and shipping of goods, the U.S. has a sense of responsibility to ensure stability. The list of destabilizing factors the U.S. anticipates includes China’s military build-up and the potential for a shift in regional power, uncertainty in the Korean peninsula, and the instabilities that can come from quick economic growth. In particular with China, although there is a growing sentiment among experts that it is unlikely that China will become a military threat to the U.S., the pace and scope of China’s expansion of military capabilities has raised concerns about China’s intentions. The U.S. sees the potential for a disproportionately powerful China to destabilize regional military and diplomatic balances.

China has been aggressively expanding its diplomatic reach in the region over the past few months, including with India, Singapore, and South Korea. China is not entirelyfond of the implied message of the decision to build up a military presence and focus on the region. Official word from China takes issue with the familiar claims stresses that its military build up is for peaceful modernization, and that its strategic intention is clear, open, and transparent. However, it does respect the U.S. legitimate interests in the region andwelcomes the U.S. as a constructive force. China also takes plenty of opportunities to point out the cooperation-damaging steps the U.S. often takes, most notably the regularsales of arms to Taiwan. U.S.-Chinese military representatives meet frequently and are working to prevent any misunderstandings that may arise from mutual suspicion. These meetings are not negotiations to change either countries actions, however, and both parties remain committed to their policies.

Russia does seem to have a number of mechanisms available to help ensure stability in the region if it choses to. Among the economic factors it can use to its advantage are: extensive gas exports, with pipelines that extend into the Asia Pacific region and plans for expansions; an overly strong raw materials export sector, which will be a benefit to the region’s other WTO members now that Russia has acceded to the WTO; a continued strong demand for imports of finished products and consumer goods, which in turn results in a reliable stream of revenue for the region’s producers and exporters. As a result, Russia could play an important role in stabilizing the economic situation in the region, which will encourage political and social stabilization as well, so long as Russia refrains from using its export resources as a diplomatic tool.

Militarily, despite the pitfalls of an aging fleet, Russia is still an important military power in the region. It is in the midst of a military build-up to replace its aging fleet and to reinvigorate its defense industry exports. However, this build-up keeps getting stuck in contract negotiations and thus has been much slower than expected. Eventually, Russia’s military exports could work to keep the balance of power in the region by helping China’s neighboring countries to reinvigorate their own militaries. Though Russia and China have friendly relations and similar policy goals, Russia tends to continue exporting arms despite controversy, as it does to Syria, if international law allows and so long as the relationship with the bilateral partner is mutually beneficial.

Diplomatically, it is not entirely clear if these mechanisms translate into being an effective middle-man between the U.S. and China on potentially heated topics that my arise from an increased presence of the U.S. in the Asia Pacific region. The lack of coordination on efforts in Syria, Iran, Israel, and other regions raises questions on how effective a partner Russia can be. Also, countries around the world recognize that Russia’s own political stability has an impact on worldwide economic and diplomatic power. Russia’scurrent internal political turmoil potentially jeopardizes the future of Russia’s stability mechanisms; if there is another large public outcry following the presidential elections, the resulting fallout could lead to a tumultuous time in Russian politics and disrupt the balance of power worldwide. In an instant, Russia can go from being a stabilizing factor in the Asia Pacific to a destabilizing factor. Thus, Russian officials have a strong incentive to maintain consistency in internal power structures and to quiet the political opposition.

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