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JPI PeaceTalk
Subject JPI PeaceTalk with Sergei Sevastianov, Professor of International Relations at Far Eastern Federal University, Russia
Author JPI  (admin)
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2017-12-18 오전 10:37:04

 

 

 It is a pleasure for me to be invited to Jeju Island again. I appreciate it and wish to thank the Jeju Peace Institute, which invited me here. I am Professor Sergei Sevastianov and I work at Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok, Russia. Actually, it is in the Russian Far East not far from here.

 


Q1. The East Asian region is confronted with a myriad of security threats, such as North Korea's nuclear program and territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the East China Sea, the East Sea and the Sea of Okhotsk. What do you see as the most imminent threat facing East Asia? What would be a reasonable approach to resolving these security threats?

 

Both issues you have mentioned are important. The North Korean nuclear issue and the territorial disputes are both very important. If you try to rank them, the North Korean nuclear issue is more urgent and important. Now is a good moment to discuss this because we have new presidents in the United States and South Korea. The situation is aggravated because North Korea is trying to implement its nuclear program and we should think about what can be done.  

 

What could a new start? First, we should encourage participation of the key players. This includes the U.S., China, Russia, Japan, and, of course, South Korea. In terms of multilateral issues and forums, this is still the six-party talks. It is focused on achieving the denuclearization goal, but maybe what we can do is postpone it a little bit as a more distant goal and start with some easy goals to achieve trust. In this we can ask North Koreans to stop the development of its nuclear program and ballistic missile delivery systems. What they can ask for in exchange are some security guarantees from the U.S. and other countries and some economic cooperation. We should restart a trilateral project with Russia, South Korea, and North Korea, and some other projects. In other words, we should focus on economics. But there are many discussions about who should take the first step. I think President Moon Jae-in is in the best position to restart this whole new situation. We know that in his team there are some people who invented the Sunshine Policy. Maybe it is time to try a new version of the Sunshine Policy. So this is what I think about the North Korean security situation.

 

As far as territorial disputes, so far the situation is not so acute. Maybe the most urgent and serious situation is in the South China Sea. But what we see now is that it is still not so bad. China finally was able to handle this issue in such a way that both partners, Vietnam and the Philippines, kind of changed their minds and said, “Okay, we can do this in a bilateral fashion.” But we should not forget about multilateral standards. You know that these countries are working on a new version of the South China Sea Code of Conduct, and I think it should be done.


Speaking of other territorial disputes, a positive example is the Russian-Japanese dispute on the Southern Kuril Islands. For years it was taboo nobody even wanted to mention it. But now, President Putin and Prime Minister Abe have established a trustworthy relationship. What Russia said is, “We can do it but, first, the economic relationship should be better developed.” For example, when we settled our territorial dispute with China, our economic contacts were much higher than what we have with Japan now. So Russia proposed some projects and Abe accepted. If we would like some economic contacts first, then I think Abe and Putin can find a solution. So this is a good example. I hope it will work.

 

Q2. China seems strongly concerned with the THAAD deployment in South Korea. On the other hand, the South Korean government believes it can ask China to understand that they shouldn’t be concerned. The question is whether the THAAD system is conducive to their national security, to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, and to the solution of the nuclear issue of the peninsula. How can we reconcile the opposing goals of the two superpowers?

 

For a start, I would say that, considering THAAD, I just wish to re-iterate the official position of Russia and China on this issue. This position is that this deployment is not conducive to regional security, and been a threat to Chinese and, to a lesser extent, Russian security interests in Northeast Asia. Why? Because, as we know, this deployment is a component of the U.S. worldwide air defense system and thus threatens Russian and Chinese interests. This is because the radars that have been deployed can control much more territory than only the northern Korean territory. So this is the case.

 

What can be done? This is a big issue. It is already there and Americans really use this situation, as we see in Russia, to press their interests. There was no president at one point, and then the president was impeached. The new president has said he does not like it, but he was not in power at that time. So now we have the issue because it is already on the ground. What can be done? I do not think it is realistic to expect that the South Koreans will just take it and send it back to the U.S., which would be such a blow to the South Korea-American relationship that it could not withstand it. But I think it was really very strange when President Trump added his pressure by asking for $1 billion for the system, which many people in the country do not want to have. I do not think this is serious. It sounds like a joke, but not a very good one.


So how can this issue be handled? I think realistically it should be through bilateral discussions between South Korea and China that, as I understand, have already started. And it is an issue for experts. In other words, it should be an issue of trust-building. What does that mean? South Korea should give China some kind of access to the data from these radars maybe or reassure them that the radar are not covering their territory. Maybe some specialists should come. Of course that does not sound very good in terms of South Korean sovereignty. So it is still really easy to say, but it is difficult to do. But I do not see any other way to proceed and to solve this issue.

 

Q3. While the Chinese economy seems stuck in a period of recession and stagnation, the U.S. has reemerged as a superpower in terms of its military and economy. It seems reasonable that the Sino-American relationship is facing a turning point. What do you think the future of the economic order in East Asia will be? Will Trump's protectionism reinvigorate the American economy? Will Japan recover from its 'lost decade'? Will China cope with the economic downturn? Will Russia place a stronger emphasis on the far eastern region than before?

 

This is really a critical question because as we know many experts expected that during America’s elections Hillary Clinton would win, and if she had won then America would continue its global politics of economic globalization and participation in multilateral economic agreements in Asia and Europe and everywhere. So it would have been a predictable neoliberal global course. But it did not happen. And Trump came to power and he proposed a protectionist course, which really became very unusual. It was his pledge during his campaign to get rid of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and he decided to leave the TPP process. This was a huge blow for this multilateral economic cooperation format because America is the largest player. Now that participants are really hesitating about what to do next, whether to stop it as it is or try to go ahead with Japanese leadership maybe. But everybody understands it should be something different.


On the other hand, everybody has been surprised by the speech by President Xi Jinping at the Davos Economic Forum when he said that China supports economic globalization and asked all countries to go ahead. But what is interesting is that he said there is a difference: we support economic liberalization, but we do not support political globalization or some kind of imperialism in cultural values or anything like that. So it is all about economics, and many participants accept this stance. Now in the Asia-Pacific, the situation is interesting because for many years during Obama’s administration China was constructing new multilateral economic organizations, kind of alternatives to American organizations in parallel, competing but not directly. But now there is no competition. America is saying, “Please lead on economic multilateralism in the Asia-Pacific.” This surprised everybody. Now, China has several economic organizations in their hands and they may choose which ones to support, such as APEC, and they will be the main driver of RCEP, and ASEAN+6, and a smaller group of countries. According to their view, and Russia actually shares this view, their participation in these groupings would help finally to construct free trade in the Asia-Pacific and a free trade economic zone.

 

So it sounds logical, but your question is a little bit different whose economics will prosper most. That is difficult to say. For me, China has more chances because now they will be making the rules. Obama did not want to give them the chance and said they would not be writing the rules. But Trump said we do not care, do what you want, we now prefer bilateralism. And he attacked Australia and Korea and many other countries and said he would like to re-design bilateral agreements that do not satisfy American interests. So this is the situation, and it is not easy for Russia. We support all multilateral cooperation formats in Asia, but the key organization that we trust is APEC. We hosted APEC several years ago and we put emphasis on this organization. We are not part of RCEP because it is a little bit of a different story. But overall we are going ahead in this direction.  

 

But again, what is the Russian goal in this whole situation? Russia’s goal is to improve the economic situation in the Russian Far East. As you know, this is a huge territory with a small population. It is underdeveloped but there is excellent potential for natural resources, energy, and transportation options by sea or by land. Actually, now we would like to contribute to food security in this area. So there are a lot of options, but we need help in developing the Russian Far East. The Russian government understands this and has proposed a comprehensive plan aimed at improving the investment climate in the Russian Far East. Now, we have projects such as territories for advanced development or Vladivostok as a free port. They have given a lot of incentives to investors, both foreign and Russian, to work in this region. This is a kind of free economic zone. We analyzed other countries in China and Singapore and proposed this program.


To promote these programs we started a new institution called the Eastern Economic Forum, which is conducted in early September. President Putin oversees it and in several years it has grown a lot in terms of importance and institutionalism. The first year it was only President Putin, but last year we had the president of Korea and prime minister of Japan. This year we hope that maybe President Moon Jae-in will come. Prime Minister Abe already confirmed his participation and I am sure President Putin is working with Beijing to invite maybe Prime Minister Li Keqiang or maybe some other leader. So as a result, it could become a Northeast Asia Economic Forum. This has never been the case, and it is an interesting effort. So we can praise Putin for it in a way.

 

The idea is that now we should not really invest a lot into trilateral projects because North Korea is still problematic. But maybe the development of the Russian Far East could be another key way to work together in Northeast Asia. Because all countries, Japan, China and South Korea, have some vested interest in this. They can contribute and they can get profit. So it can work. That is why we give high value to this forum and we hope to see the Korean president in Vladivostok in early September this year.

 

Q4. Any last words for our JejuTube viewers?

 

It is a good opportunity to be here and see so many good experts, and I enjoyed my discussions today. For example, a professor from America and a professor from Russia, myself, we had the same ideas about the Trump leadership style, and we also have a lot of similarities with Chinese scholars. So I think it is good that we are meeting here and I hope I will enjoy my second day tomorrow listening to presentations of former leaders of many Northeast Asian and Southeast Asian states. They will bring their own ideas so we can have more discussions. So this is one of the best forums that South Korea is holding. Maybe this is not the best moment because of the changes in leadership and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, but anyway it can give some more opportunities for discussions and maybe even development of new ideas in the foreign policy course for South Korea.