Impressions from The Vladivostok Eastern Economic Forum – Part 1: A meeting of The Rising Asia in The Land Of The Rising Sun

Impressions from The Vladivostok Eastern Economic Forum – Part 1: A meeting of The Rising Asia in The Land Of The Rising Sun

By Işıkgün Akfırat, Vladivostok, Russia

Russia’s easternmost port city of Vladivostok has been the host for the Eastern Economic Forum September 5-8. In his speech at the forum, Russian President Putin said that “the world has recently undergone irreversible tectonic shifts”, and that “We have to treat all countries as equals”.

Russia’s easternmost port city of Vladivostok has been the host city for the country’s second largest international event, the Eastern Economic Forum (EEF), on September 5-8. The title of the seventh annual forum was chosen to be “Gateway to a Multipolar World”. The main focus of the discussions in Vladivostok were on the collapse of the American dollar, the new international order, some alternative international mechanisms and the opportunities for new cooperations created by this crisis: These topics resembled those from the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF) back in June.

In The Land Of The Rising Sun

Vladivostok is a city that Russian President Vladimir Putin has paid special attention in the last 10 years. The government officially named the region “Far Eastern Federal District” in order to develop it and strengthen relations with Asian countries. The founding Chairman of the People’s Republic of China, Mao Zedong has a famous quote as a response to a Western journalist using the term Far East: “Far from who?”

Well, Vladivostok is pretty far from Moscow! We can only reach the city after an 8-hour flight. And there is a 7-hour time zone difference with the capital of the country. For this reason, the region is referred to as the “Far East” from a Moscow-centric point of view. And the fact that an airplane taking off from Japan could reach Eastern Europe by flying over only one country also illustrates Russia’s vast geography.

A marvelous university campus was built between 2012 and 2015 in Vladivostok that hosted this forum, which was intended to be one of the centers of attraction for Asia. The Russky Bridge or the Russian Bridge, which is currently the city’s symbol along with being the longest cable bridge in the world, was completed in 2012. And Putin is personally attending the forum every year since 2015, inviting also other leaders of Eurasia as guest speakers. Thus, the Eastern Economic Forum has become one of the most important cooperation platforms not only for Russia, but also for all Asia-Pacific countries and ASEAN members. As a matter of fact, the Chinese President Xi Jinping personally attended the forum twice before, while sending this year China’s second-in-charge Li Zhanshu, the Chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress.

Geopolitical tectonics have shifted

All eyes were again on the Plenary Session in this year’s forum. Vladimir Putin’s arrival at the session hall was evident from the increased activity in the building. The top individuals from the Russian government all took their seats at the front rows. And as the other leaders entered the session hall, the audience gave a loud applause standing up.

Apart from Putin and Li, the Burmese President Min Aung Hlaing, the Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan and the Mongolian Prime Minister Oyun-Erdene have all made speeches in the hall. The Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, the Malaysian Prime Minister Ismail Sabri Yaakob and the Vietnamese Prime Minister Pham Minh Chinh have also addressed the participants of the event and the whole world via video messages.

Putin began his speech with an emphasis on a new multipolar world, just as he did at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. He also underlined that there have been “irreversible tectonic shifts” in the international relations. Putin noted that it is the developing countries, especially those in the Asia-Pacific region, which have become centers of economic and technological development.

Putin said there is no other word to express the current situation but as Western economic, financial and technological “aggression” and added that Russia is coping well against it. On the other hand, he pointed out that the West is being caught in a “sanctions’ frenzy” and continues its aggressive attempts to force the Western mode of behavior on other countries. He stated that the goal of these efforts was “to extinguish their sovereignty and to bend them to its will”. But he added that this behavior is not unusual, having been pursued by the “collective West” for decades.

Putin referred to the waning dominance of the United States in the global economy and politics as the “catalyst” of the geopolitical tectonics shift. He noted that the stubborn unwillingness or even inability of the Western elites to see, let alone recognize objective facts, have accelerated this process.

Idea of a multipolar world

When asked by the forum host “What is Russia’s idea of the world and multipolarity?”, Putin replied: “Our idea and the world’s idea of multipolarity is that the world should be much more just, the world should not be based on the dictates of a country that imagines itself to be the representative of God on earth, and perhaps even higher, and bases all its policies on its alleged exceptionalism. We have to respect other countries’ interests and treat them as equal regardless of the size of their territory, their GDP or whether their army has advanced weapons. The foundation must be the principles of international law and not some rules that someone comes up with. This is how you get justice; this is how you get a stable world order. This has always been our foundation, and will continue to be, and we will fight for our sovereignty. Let no one doubt that we are ready to cooperate with any state that wants to work under these conditions, and we will do so”.

The fallacy of a ‘Rule-Based Order’

Putin also mentioned of the “rule-based international order” that the West constantly refers to, saying the Western countries are seeking to preserve “yesterday’s world order”. He stated that this order only benefits them and they “force everyone to live according to the infamous ‘rules’, which they concocted themselves. Putin also pointed out that it is the West itself who regularly violate these rules, changing them to suit their agenda depending on how things are going at any given moment.

And during the Q&A part of the session, Putin stressed that it is always the West that violates the international law: “Who started the war in Iraq without permission from the United Nations? Who destroyed Yugoslavia under specious pretexts? Who did that? Who unleashed a war in the center of Europe by bombing Belgrade? No one remembered the principles of international law back then”.

Putin said the West “loses grip” when other countries refuse to abide by these “dictates and arbitrary rules,” and as a result, Western countries take “short-sighted, irrational” decisions on global security, politics, as well as economics. Stating that the EU has violated the agreements it has made with Russia and the rules of the free market on the NordStream-1 pipeline, Putin said: “You cannot break objective economic laws and get away with it, it will boomerang on you”. And he described the decision of the US and the European Union to impose a price cap on gas and oil prices as “an absolutely dumb thing to do”. Putin said that they are not in a position to dictate their will to Russia, and called on the West to “come to its senses”. Such decisions, he underlined, “further widen the gap between Western elites and their citizens.”

A Europe burning in ‘the sanctions’ furnace’

Putin spoke of the heavy penalties of these irrational decisions of Europe with these striking words: “Europe is about to throw its achievements in building up its manufacturing capability, the quality of life of its people and socioeconomic stability into the sanctions’ furnace, depleting its potential. ” He noted that Europe had thrown itself into the furnace as directed by Washington, for the sake of the infamous “Euro-Atlantic unity”. Putin stressed that this meant nothing more than “sacrifices in the name of preserving the dominance of the United States in global affairs”.

The Russian President stated that manufacturing sites are shutting down one after another in Europe, and that the “competitive ability of European companies is in decline” in the global market. He pointed out that the only reason for this was Europe cutting themselves off from affordable commodities and energy, as well as trade markets. He noted that it would come as no surprise if eventually the niches currently occupied by European businesses, both on the continent and on the global market, will be taken over by their American patrons who know no boundaries or hesitation when it comes to pursuing their interests and achieving their goals.

Noting that the Western nations are struggling with the highest inflation rates in their recent history by revealing all relevant data, Putin said that this trend will inevitably lead to a deadlock, an economic and social crisis, and will have unpredictable consequences for the whole world.

Collapsing reign of the American Dollar

Putin stated that that the Western countries have undermined the pillars of the global economic system built over centuries, “in an attempt to obstruct the course of history”, while the dollar, euro and pound sterling have lost trust as currencies suitable for performing transactions, storing reserves and denominating assets in front of our eyes. He also noted that the Western currencies are no longer a suitable option for transactions, reserves and assets. “We are taking steps to shed this dependence on unreliable and compromised foreign currencies.” Putin added.

President Putin reminded that even the US allies are gradually reducing their dollar reserves. He pointed out that the volume of transactions and savings in dollars is diminishing step by step. Noting that in the latest agreement between Gazprom and its Chinese partners, they decided to switch to 50/50 transactions in rubles and yuan with respect to gas payments, Putin sent the message that similar agreements will be made with all countries, which will even further accelerate the collapse of the dollar reign.

‘Lavrov will probably be angry at me because…’

Agreeing on the host’s comment that Russia should open its doors to those coming from Europe despite the sanctions imposed by Europe on Russian tourists, Putin added: “Just like we will not allow anyone to impose any decision on us in any other sector since their arms are not long enough for this, we shouldn’t also do anything that contradicts our interests in this area as well. Mr. Lavrov will probably be angry at me because the Foreign Ministry always responds in kind: they spat on us so we must spit on them; they cancelled visas for us and so we must cancel visas for all of them” teasing with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, and added: “But we should not do anything that does not meet our own interests”, noting that Russia would not close its doors to Europe.

Putin continued, “Are we interested in young people coming to study in our country? Yes. So why stop them from coming? We are interested in entrepreneurs coming and working here despite the restrictions. So many entrepreneurs love Russia, trust it and want to work here. Welcome, let them come and work. What is the point of restricting them? Or, say, tutors come and teach our children. Let them come and work. What is bad about this? Or take athletes, for one, or artists. Why limit them? We will not cut off these contacts ourselves. Anyone that does this is just isolating themselves, not us”.

Call on evaluating opportunities

Noting that Russia has achieved stability despite the sanctions war targeting the Russian economy, Putin stressed that his country still is open to developing further trade cooperation with other countries, especially those also affected by Western sanctions. Emphasizing that an absolute majority of Asia Pacific countries “reject the destructive logic of sanctions”, the Russian President stated that a dynamic long-term development based on common interests, has been formed in Asia Pacific. He reminded that the share of Asian economies in global GDP would grow from 37.1 percent in 2015 to 45 percent in 2027.

Stating that the efforts done on the North-South corridor will increase trade and investments between Russia and markets like Iran, the Middle East and Africa, Putin concluded: “What ever happens, I believe that the logic of cooperation, aligning the potentials and mutual benefits that our countries and our friends in the region adhere to, will prevail at the end. By reasonably taking advantage of the competitive sides and strengths of the Asia-Pacific countries and by creating constructive partnerships we will open new colossal opportunities for our peoples. We are ready to work together for the sake of a successful future”.

‘Europe has usurped the mechanisms we established together with Türkiye’

One of the important issues that Putin drew attention to in his speech was the deceit by European countries, over the grain corridor agreement mediated by Türkiye. Noting that the 87 percent of the grain sent from Ukraine actually went to Europe, Putin noted that only 3 percent goes to the developing countries currently struggling with food shortages.

“We did everything to ensure that Ukrainian grain was exported, and we certainly assumed that we would make every effort to uphold their interests and would facilitate the export of Ukrainian grain. Russia did it together with Türkiye” Putin said, adding that “What I am saying is, many European countries today continue to act as colonizers, exactly as they have been doing in previous decades and centuries. Developing countries have simply been cheated yet again and continue to be cheated.”

Putin’s statement, “I will certainly consult with President of Turkiye, Mr. Erdogan, because together with him we were the ones who developed a mechanism for the export of Ukrainian grain, primarily, I repeat, to help the poorest countries. But what happened in practice?”,  was supported by the Turkish President a day later. Putin also told that they would discuss this issue at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization meeting in Samarkand.

Meeting Lavrov

We met with the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov at the entrance of the hall that the Plenary Session was held on the third day of the forum. After a long interview at the doorway, I rushed quickly and introduced myself, as he was heading for his seat. When I told him I was from Türkiye, and represented Aydinlik newspaper, he immediately recognized and smiled. When I told him that I had also previously interviewed the Consul General of Russia in Istanbul Andrey Burahov, and that I was looking forward to also interview him one day, he replied “Why not?”. After thanking him for the reply, we took our seats in the hall to listen to the world leaders.

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March 2023