With Obama no longer able to attend the APEC CEO Summit in Bali, Putin may have a new opportunity to extend Russian influence in the Asia-Pacific.
Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa, right, shakes hands with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, center, at the APEC summit in Bali, Indonesia. Photo: AP
The 2013 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit, which starts on Oct. 5 in Bali, Indonesia, is the fifth iteration of the event, which has previously been held in Singapore, Japan, the U.S., and Russia. Thirteen world leaders and various other thought leaders from diverse industries have confirmed their attendance at this year’s Summit, which is a regional highlight for business leaders as well as an unmatched opportunity for top level interaction, networking and learning.
This year's theme, “Towards Resilience and Growth: Reshaping Priorities for Global Economy,” will address important global business priorities and seek out avenues to achieve inclusive sustainable growth for all APEC economies.
When it was founded in 1989, APEC’s twelve original members set about to enhance economic cooperation and trade liberalization in the Asia-Pacific region. Between 1991 and 1998, nine other nations joined APEC, with Russia amongst the last to join in November 1998. Together, the members of APEC account for about 40 percent of the world's population and 44 percent of global trade.
Presidents Barack Obama and Vladimir Putin were slated to speak on the last day of the Summit but a last-minute cancellation by the U.S. President will see the attendance of Secretary of State John Kerry in his stead. Kerry will also be representing the U.S. at the East Asia Summit in Brunei, which follows the APEC CEO Summit.
President Obama was supposed to speak on the global ramifications of America's leadership and priorities, which is not without a tinge of irony as his absence was triggered by a breakdown in American leadership in its most powerful arm of government, Congress. On the other hand, President Putin will still be present at the dais to speak on new opportunities for growth in the Asia-Pacific. President Putin will be joined on stage by Andrey L. Kostin, the President and Chairman of VTB Bank.
Russia’s interest in the Asia-Pacific is concentrated on exporting food and energy. Russia is also attempting to position itself as a transportation bridge between Asia and Europe.
According to Dr. Mikhail Troitskiy, a Moscow-based political analyst, Russia has had overly optimistic plans in the Asia-Pacific region. Russia currently represents only about 1 percent of trade in Asia, with the bulk of it being oil and liquefied natural gas supplies and some arms trading with countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Vietnam.
It has been reported that the Russian President will brief the leaders in Bali about developments during the recent G20 summit, with presidential aide Yuri Ushakov also having been quoted as saying that the CEO Summit is a “good opportunity to promote Russian approaches towards regional integration processes due to the social and economic development of Siberia and the Far East, and Russia’s participation in the Customs Union and the Eurasian economic space.”
“President Putin will also probably state that Russia is prepared to increase energy supplies to the Asia-Pacific region and invite Asian companies, on an ad hoc basis, to engage with Russian upstream oil and gas activities. The invitation will be to expand trade ties with Russia with a focus on energy commodities,” Troitskiy added.
Besides focusing on matters pertaining to free trade, non-discriminatory trade agreements, and an emphasis on the need to not sideline China, President Putin is also likely to also call for peaceful dispute resolution through negotiations in the region, such as in the case of China and Japan's mutual claim over the Senkaku Islands.
In the days leading up to the CEO Summit, China’s leader Xi Jinping has been on a so-called "charm offensive" to establish Chinese dominance in the Asian region. Closer to Moscow, Chinese trade with Central Asian countries is on the ascent and its impact has become more apparent. Nonetheless, China has been careful not to antagonize Russia and its interests in the region, especially in the areas of political orientation and defense alliances.
President Obama's decision to cancel a meeting with President Putin during the G20 Summit in Moscow a month ago, ostensibly in protest over Russia's decision to grant asylum to former computer specialist-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden, had raised expectations for a potential meeting between the two presidents during the APEC CEO summit.
As a result, President Obama's absence will disappoint observers. The meeting, which in substance would have focused on Syria, would also have had symbolic significance in reaffirming the continued engagement between Russia and the U.S.
“On the U.S. side, they would have wanted to know Russia's views on President Assad throughout the lengthy and bumpy process in Syria in coming months. Russia, on the other hand, might have wanted to pitch security guarantees to the U.S. that it would ban deliveries of arms to the Syrian opposition. In economic matters, Russia has also been keen to involve the U.S. in investment agreements and facilitate American investment in Russia, but the U.S. is of the opinion that Russia should take care of its own investment climate,” explains Troitskiy.
In prior years, the attendance of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry at the Summit would have been an excellent platform for the U.S. to promote the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership as well as other trade liberalization measures. Instead, this year, Kerry’s presence in place of Obama only highlights the repercussions of the political stalemate currently paralyzing Washington.