_ ASEAN Briefing. Singapore, 6 August 2018.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has been meeting with ministers from the ASEAN bloc of countries in Singapore this past week in preparations for the ASEAN 2018 summit due to be held in November. Several plenary sessions were held, with China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi also in attendance. Neither Russia nor China is members of ASEAN, however, China is part of the so-called “ASEAN +3” along with Japan and South Korea, while China has also been ASEAN’s top trading partner for the past eight years, aiming at the joint target of US trillion in trade by 2020.
Russia also has common interests with China when addressing ASEAN as both Moscow and Beijing play major roles in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).
Singapore meanwhile has been negotiating with Russia over a free trade agreement with the Moscow-backed Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU), of which ASEAN member Vietnam has already commenced, with China also agreeing on a non-preferential FTA earlier this year. This means that trade ties between ASEAN and the EAEU can be expected to increase, and especially so with Russia.
According to Lavrov, a roadmap for SCO-ASEAN cooperation is currently in the works, and Moscow is hoping that both organizations will benefit from the plan. However, the SCO-ASEAN format is not the only platform for common projects. Moscow sees possible participation in the EAEU as another way for ASEAN, SCO and even the European Union (EU) members to enjoy closer relations. Lavrov commented, “Life tells us that this big Eurasian project — is more like a goal, a situation where we are trying to reach consensus, and move towards it, and we invite all countries on which represent that geopolitical environment to participate.”
He also commented on trade ties with the EU, saying “Let’s not forget that the EU is also part of this geopolitical environment.
We always stress that when we are talking about strengthening ties between EAEU, the SCO and ASEAN, we leave doors open for the EU, if the EU is interested. The EU probably should have such interest if it’s driven by pragmatic economic interests — there is no doubt about that.”
Russia’s ties with ASEAN started developing in 2005 when Russia joined the bloc’s East Asia Summit, which includes the US, Australia, New Zealand and other nations at the invitation of Malaysia and with support from India and China. Russia has been promoting the concept of utilizing the EAEU, which shares borders with the European Union, as a thoroughfare via which ASEAN members can access both Russia and the EU.
In 2016 the south Russian city of Sochi hosted a two-day Russia-ASEAN summit, and last year Sergey Lavrov took part in the opening ceremony of the permanent mission of Russian Federation to ASEAN in Jakarta.
Chris Devonshire-Ellis of Dezan Shira & Associates comments “Both Russia and China are taking huge steps to better unite Eurasia, and this includes South-East Asia as well. Ties between Russia and ASEAN are increasing and trade potential can be expected to increase. Vietnam’s bilateral trade with Russia has grown to US$10 billion in just two years; while similar trade results can be expected elsewhere with ASEAN members if these other nations also agree on FTA with the EAEU. The Russia-ASEAN trade corridor is ripe for development.”