14.11.2014 Author: Vladimir Terehov

About Meetings “on the Sidelines” of APEC

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The latest APEC forum, held from 5 to 11 November in Beijing, confirmed two related trends, which have been emerging for a long time in opposite directions. The first is the falling of APEC itself in the role of global political processes as a regional quasi-organization. The second is the growing importance of ongoing APEC forums as platforms on which a new geopolitical game is unfolding. In this regard the “moves” of major players are made in parallel with the (supposedly) main forum activities, that is on its “sidelines”.

Both of these trends have the same cause, which is the main content of a new global political game. We are talking about the comprehensive competition of the US and China, which renders the main goal of the 1990s formed APEC impossible to achieve, which is to create conditions for common regional integration processes.

But even with the alternative “Trans-Pacific Partnership” (TPP) project, business is not very secure. As predicted earlier, during the Beijing Summit of APEC the task of signing the statutory documents of the TPP, posed by US President Barack Obama, fell through.

As for the “moves” of the leading players on the “sidelines” of APEC, they were made over the course of bilateral meetings of experts and ministers that preceded the final event in the form of conversations of government leaders.

The meeting of Vladimir Putin with Xi Jinping did not contain any intrigue, as it confirmed the results of the long-established fruitful bilateral relations.

Special attention should be paid to contacts at the highest level during the Beijing APEC forum, including conversations of Xi Jinping with Barack Obama and Shinzo Abe, as well as Vladimir Putin with Obama and Abe.

They differed in their duration and concomitant “entourage”. But for Russia’s interests in the APR they were very important. In the face of the deteriorating situation in the region and the world at large the importance of these contacts was conditioned primarily by the fact that they occurred at all,

as the discussions could not help but touch upon key international problems that occur in the system of paired relationships: “US-China”, “Japan-China”, “US-Russia”, “Russia-Japan”.

US-China

The belief that “no other factor today does have such a profound influence on the international situation as the relationship between the US and China” can be considered typical in the expert community.

In the fall of 2012, i.e. a few months before leaving office, Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton said that today, “Washington and Beijing are trying to do something that could not be done by anyone in all of history”. This phrase has been viewed as an obvious allusion to the nasty historical tradition, which is that the emergence of a new global player is invariably perceived by the geopolitical leader as a challenge to its key interests.

This conflict almost always ends in a war of catastrophic proportions. In the current situation the presence of nuclear weapons in the arsenals of both leading world powers, the US and China, have led to the expectation that their leaders attempt to “trick” the grim historical tradition. Both sides began to send each other positive signals. On the American side, those, in particular, were the invitations to the Chinese Navy to participate in the international naval exercise RIMPAC-2014 and a statement of the “possibility” of including China in the TTP.

Among the latest evidence of such signals from the Chinese side one can mention the memorial ceremony for volunteer pilots of the American Squadron “Flying Tigers” that fought against the Japanese in China before the start of full-scale war in the Pacific.

This ceremony was held by the Chinese Consulate in Los Angeles on October 24, 2014, which was two weeks before the start of the APEC forum in which Xi Jinping was scheduled to meet with Barack Obama.

In the most general form the assessment of its outcome is that the fundamental problems in bilateral relations remain, but some steps towards each other continue to be made.

Japan-China

The growing importance of the “Japan-China” relationship, among other things, is determined by the fact that in the case of the deepening trend in American politics to prevent a confrontation with China, Japanese-Chinese relations will inevitably come to the forefront in the APR. Meanwhile, their condition, to put it very mildly, “leaves much to be desired”. An illustration of the latter is the very fact that in the summer of 2012 all official contacts between the two countries ceased. Therefore, the primary issue in bilateral relations to be addressed at the APEC forum was the resumption of contacts.

The initiative in sending the message across to the relevant partner came from Japan, which was pressured by the US which is interested in lowering the level of tension in the Asia Pacific region. In a series of informal overture trips to China (but of paramount importance) by Japanese politicians, which since May 2014 have been carried out by the Japanese side, particular importance was placed on the two visits to Beijing by former Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda.

The choice of Fukuda as “Parlimentaire” in preliminary talks with the Chinese was apparently due to the fact that it was during his tenure (2007-2008) that bilateral relations briefly assumed a character that at the time was defined by intricate expressions such as “blooming spring”. However, the short-lived “blooming spring” in Sino-Japanese relations was quickly replaced by a long dreary “autumn”.

During the second of the above-mentioned visits by Fukuda to Beijing on 30 September, for the first time a “pleasant conversation” was had with the leader of China, Xi Jinping, which “went beyond” bilateral relations.

The first official contacts were the talks in Beijing (during the APEC forum) between the foreign ministers of both countries Fumio Kishida and Wang Yi, as well as between the member of the newly-created National Security Council of Japan Siotaro Yati and Yang Jiechi, the predecessor of Wang Yi as Minister of foreign Affairs of China, to take a higher position in the hierarchy of Chinese leadership.

During these meetings there was a joint statement of the four points, in accordance with which the parties intend to continue to operate in order to improve relations between the two countries and in the interests of the region as a whole. This statement also became the basis for the first meeting in three years between the leaders of China and Japan.

The trend identified in the course of negotiations between Abe and Xi Jinping toward improving Sino-Japanese relations should be seen as very positive for Russian interests. For the last thing that Russia wants is to be forced to make a political choice between China and Japan in the event of a further deterioration of relations between them.

But we should not exaggerate the significance of what happened at the APEC forum for the state of Sino-Japanese relations. All that has happened is the resumption of official contacts between the two countries and the manifestation of a mutual desire to discuss issues which in themselves will not disappear and, unlike a toothache, cannot be “charmed” away.

Russia-US

Problems in Russian-American relations have been accumulating for a long time, and during the recent events in Ukraine they have most clearly manifested themselves. During the semi-annual meeting in this country, each party apparently only partially achieved their goals.

It could not be otherwise in the conditions of the original format of the game, “zero-sum”, between the two leading nuclear powers. Except, of course, that it did not risk logical development up to nuclear disaster.

There arises, however, the question of what possibly could have been the basis of selecting the aforementioned format instead of the “win-win” format?

To continue the explicitly disastrous “Ukrainian project” launched in 1991, a product of the Cold War that ended long ago? To once again change the scenery in the twenty-year-old circus with the already unfunny “Ukrainianizer” clowns? Or to revitalize half-dead NATO, on the wall of the headquarters of which are well-known inscriptions are displayed?

But, in fact, Obama himself early in his presidency steered the US away from the simply unaffordable and thankless role of world policeman. For which he received ridiculous accusations of “weakness” on the part of a specific section of the “political elite” in the US, but not the American people. They are tired of pointless, extremely costly wars almost continuously maintained by Washington in the last twenty years.

To fend off these accusations Obama recently began following the example of a movie sergeant by “making scary faces”. Having just started to get out of the Afghan quagmire (which is one of the fundamental objectives of Barack Obama as the US president), did he climb into the new, Iraqi one, for the notorious fight with “terrorism”?

This does not rule out, of course, that the source of new problems for the current US president may be hotheaded Republicans, who have now fully captured Congress. Apparently, some of them came to “big politics” without clean bills of mental health.

Young, green, faced with real, not virtual pre-election problems of the country. Again, it is necessary to work with the youth.

The Russian side should facilitate dialogue with current American parliamentarians, both with the president of the United States and Russia. We have had periods of quite productive interaction with the Republicans.

But most importantly, in the author’s, exclusively private, view, the heart of Russia’s relations with the US should not be “nuclear deterrence”. It is extremely costly and quite meaningless in an environment where (unlike the Cold War period), the main geopolitical opponent of the US today is not Russia.

Against the background of a clear desire of the main external source of American concerns (China), for them to mix brandishing nuclear club “outsiders” in the conflict of the two current “big guys” looks strange. One can run into a contemptuously provoking question: “And, in fact, gentlemen, who invited you here?”

“Nuclear deterrence” brings along a whole train of pseudo-problems, such as “the problem of missile defence”. The lobbying interests of a certain part of the Russian defence industry must, of course, be respected and taken into account.

But we should not lose sight of the fact that today and for the foreseeable future, they are only a part (not the most weighty) of the countries’ interests. And we cannot allow ourselves to be blackmailed with meaningless frightening words, such as “security”.

By the way, the first time such a blackmail cropped up was in the second half of the 1950s in the United States, used in connection with the “bomber program” of the USSR. In 1960 on the topic of the “domination of the MIC” in the United States President Eisenhower gave a speech a few days before leaving the presidency. This testament of one of the most distinguished American generals has a universal character.

The military sphere should have almost nothing to do with the current issues of Russian-American relations. The latter is caused mainly by the inertia of the assessments of both sides of the surrounding political world that has almost nothing in common with those observed during the Cold War.

Frequent games today with the term “Cold War” (“which has renewed”) are simply ridiculous. This term denotes a very specific segment of recent history, that irrevocably (as always in history) ended 25 years ago.

With known results for one of the two main actors of the period, the heir of which should have long ago gotten rid of phantom pains. If it is not a child punishing the floor by which it was injured.

Russia-Japan

Improving US-Russian relations is a prerequisite for the further development of relations between Russia and Japan.

It must be emphasized that the motivation of Japan’s interest in the development of comprehensive relations with Russia today is beyond the scope of the so-called “problem of the Northern Territories” and is caused mainly by the desire to prevent the dominant influence of China in the Russian Federation.

However, in the context of growing confrontation with China, including the issues of ownership of the islands of the Senkaku/Diaoyu, Tokyo is meanwhile in dire need of preserving the viability of the Japanese-American Security Treaty of 1960.

Therefore the aggravation of Russian-American relations with the beginning of the Ukrainian crisis left no chance for the Japanese government to avoid joining the anti-Russian sanctions and implement the official visit of Vladimir Putin to Japan planned for the autumn of 2014.

In these conditions, as well as in “Japan-China” relations, the issue of resuming bilateral summit talks gained paramount importance for the defrosting process and further development of Russian-Japanese relations.

At the official level, the proposal to use the APEC forum for the organization of the summit was made on September 21, 2014 in a telephone conversation between Shinzo Abe and the Russian president, even though it was discussed in the press over the past several months.

Speaking at the end of September 2014 on national television, Abe said that he already met five times with Putin and “would like to continue this dialogue”. As the main problems of bilateral relations Abe pointed to the absence of a peace treaty between Japan and Russia. With a view to its solution, in his opinion, “it is essential to continue contacts between the leaders of the two countries”.

On October 20, 2014 in Milan at the “Asia-Europe” summit the leaders of the two countries finally agreed to hold a brief meeting on the sidelines of the upcoming APEC forum.

As expected, in the course of this meeting, the Japanese Prime Minister paid special attention to the problems of resolving the Ukrainian crisis and concluding a peace treaty with Russia. President Putin and Abe agreed to hold the official visit of the Russian president to Japan in the next year at a mutually convenient time.

Conclusion

Without exaggerating the significance of bilateral meetings on the sidelines of the just-concluded APEC forum, it should be noted that they may be linked to new political trends, allowing cautious hope for overcoming the inexorable logic of the historical process. The accumulation of negativity in the international system leads to its destruction, often through catastrophic wars.

In recent years, this negativity has accumulated mainly in the Asia Pacific region, i.e. in the region, where the centre of gravity of global political and economic life is shifting. Here have also moved the key interests of Russia, and not because of the deterioration of relations with “Europe” in general.

Rather, the contrary. The Ukrainian crisis, having triggered the deterioration, hinders the implementation of Russia’s “turn to Asia” for objective reasons. Insofar as it diverts public resources from infrastructure projects in eastern Russia.

In this regard, “the healing” of ulcers formed on the spot of the broken Ukrainian abscess is in the interests not only of Russia but also of Europe, which will join China in implementing Russian projects in the East. There are no clear significant reasons for the two other world powers, Japan and the US not to join them.

They just need to hurry with the development of the basic concept of the project of developing Siberia. Otherwise India, which under the new Prime Minister is paying serious attention to the creation of its transport and industrial infrastructure, will capture all potential external partners and investors. And, as you know, in India, unlike in Siberia, year-round warmth and labour costs are much cheaper than in Russia.

Naturally, we can forget about the implementation of such projects, if we cannot restrain the negative promotion of political processes in Asia Pacific. In this respect, the outcome of meetings of leaders of leading world powers on the sidelines of the latest APEC inspire cautious optimism.

Vladimir Terekhov, an expert on the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.


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