Russian Foreign Minister Addresses ASEAN, East Asia Summit, Holds Q&A Session And Meets Blinken and Wang In Closed Door Session
The Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, attended the ASEAN-Russia conference held in Jakarta, Indonesia on Thursday (July 13) during which he addressed both the conference and addressed media questions. We reproduce the text below, in addition to meetings held with the United States and China as part of the East-Asia Forum.
Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s statement and answers to media questions following the Russia-ASEAN Conference, Jakarta, July 13, 2023
We have held the annual ministerial meeting between Russia and ASEAN member countries once again. The meeting involved the Secretary-General of this organisation. We reviewed the implementation of a long-term action plan until 2025, adopted at the Russia-ASEAN Summit in 2021. We prioritised such aspects as high technologies, digitalisation and smart cities. We noted the successful organisation of a meeting of ministers responsible for science and technological development in February 2023, as well as the first Russia-ASEAN consultation on digital cooperation in June 2023. We agreed to make this a regular aspect of our collaboration.
We devoted special attention to education. A working plan for cooperation in this sphere has already been finalised, and it will enter into force in the near future. The plan concerns all areas of education, including specific careers. We have accumulated positive experience here. We will implement this plan until 2026.
We had a separate discussion of our collaboration on countering new challenges and threats, including terrorism, drug trafficking and other forms of organised crime. We reaffirmed our readiness to expand and deepen programmes to train personnel for the relevant agencies of ASEAN countries at courses of the Russian Interior Ministry and Federal Security Service. This cooperation was launched 10 years ago, and our partners have a high opinion of it.
Cooperation between ASEAN and the Eurasian Economic Union is another issue. This year marks the fifth anniversary of signing a memorandum of understanding between operators of the Eurasian Economic Commission and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in the sphere of economic cooperation. This cooperation has good prospects. EAEU representatives and those of ASEAN member countries discussed this during their contacts on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in June 2023. We are expecting ASEAN representatives at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok in September 2023. We have drafted specific plans aiming to expand practical cooperation in various fields and in the interests of all participants.
Question: ASEAN is mentioned in the updated Russian foreign policy concept, including as a potential core for a large Eurasian partnership along with the SCO and the EAEU. How do the ASEAN nations regard this wider integration contour? Have other practical steps to bring ASEAN closer to the EAEU and the SCO been discussed today?
Sergey Lavrov: I have already said that an entire range of specific events and consultations are being held on where cooperation can be promoted, for the benefit of each other and the common good. The concept of the Greater Eurasian Partnership was formulated by President of Russia Vladimir Putin at one of the first Russia-ASEAN summits in 2016. ASEAN, the SCO, and the EAEU were mentioned as the main driving forces of this concept. I would like to stress that our vision for the Greater Eurasian Partnership is not limited to individual structures, but is an invitation to cooperation for all organisations and countries on our common great Eurasian continent without exception.
Contacts envisaged in corresponding memorandums are established between the secretariats of all three associations (SCO, ASEAN, and EAEU). They are aimed at ensuring that each of these organisations considers the possibility of joining forces with their partners in their practical work. This reflects our desire to contribute to the formation of the Greater Eurasian Partnership not through artificially formulated schemes, but organically, through practical projects implemented on the ground in the EAEU, in the SCO, and in ASEAN. The number of areas where our interests and plans converge is growing, so I am optimistic about further progress.
Question: President of Turkiye Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced that there allegedly were some new proposals on the grain deal from Russian President Vladimir Putin that the Turkish side was examining. Is it true and if so, what are these proposals?
Sergey Lavrov: I am not aware of any new proposals, but apparently, you mean what presidents Vladimir Putin and Recep Tayyip Erdogan have been discussing for a long time: our common readiness to work, regardless of other agreements, on preferential grain supplies, primarily to countries that are most in need of this commodity.
Turkiye was interested in helping to process our grain and participating in a scheme that would make it possible to independently help developing countries.
Question: ASEAN’s slogan this year is “ASEAN Matters. Epicenter of Growth,” but the organisation has long been accused of inefficiency and being more about speeches than practical solutions. How do you view the relevance of a format like ASEAN, especially against the background of the growing influence and productivity of BRICS? What makes ASEAN unique compared to other formats?
Sergey Lavrov: ASEAN is criticised by those who want to replace it as the mechanism and main acting force of the architecture of security and cooperation in this region. For many decades, ASEAN has been developing in accordance with its principles, which consist, first of all, of the need to seek consensus, a balance of interests, which takes time. But those agreements that are reached through consideration of each other’s interests, based on mutual benefit, are much stronger than those that were imposed in a hurry in an effort to announce something loudly on the eve of this or that electoral cycle in one of the countries where such statements are made.
There is an expression: “The ASEAN way.” It is a calm, thoughtful way, without knee-jerk responses to the pressing issues of the day, sometimes artificially inflated and thrown onto the international agenda. This is what ASEAN has always been valuable for, and everyone praised the experience and capabilities of this organisation to gather around itself a wide variety of partners, including the West, the Russian Federation, the People’s Republic of China, and Japan, and to reach agreements that are enshrined in declarations and documents dedicated to practical cooperation.
I cannot agree that ASEAN is an inefficient organisation. If you pay attention to the documents that this organisation adopts by the dozens, you will see that it is a very abundant programme of specific projects in various areas of daily human activity and future-oriented development. The documents reflect the trends that are underway in the field of science, technology, industry, climate protection, etc. The same kind of documents are adopted when ASEAN holds meetings with its partners within the East Asia Summit and within the ASEAN Regional Forum on security. These are also extensive projects, which include, among other things, the fight against infectious diseases and the development of tourism (Russian initiatives within the East Asia summits). Sharing experience through volunteer movements, which are getting more and more developed in the countries of this region, as well as in the Russian Federation. This also includes combating the terrorist threat, ensuring the safety of navigation and much more.
Not everyone is aware of these projects, because this is everyday, practical, discreet work, which now, unfortunately, does not attract media attention. The media are being fed stories, such as the “threat” posed by Russia and China, or “the battle for the freedoms of all mankind” in Ukraine. Well, and much more – something opportunistic, dictated, as we have already noted, by internal political events in a particular country. Especially on the eve of elections, when candidates need to score as many points as possible and show how smart they are, how quickly they can resolve issues.
It is true that the ASEAN approaches are now going through a serious test because of the desire of the US and its allies to replace the ASEAN-centric security architecture in the Asia-Pacific region, which took shape over decades and suited everyone until recently, with their “Indo-Pacific strategies” and NATO expansion in this region.
As you probably noticed, NATO stated its claim to a global role at last year’s summit in Madrid and the recent summit in Vilnius. Jens Stoltenberg said recently that security is not a regional but rather a global matter, that security in the Euro-Atlantic area and the Indo-Pacific region, as they call it, is indivisible. There are plans to move part of NATO military infrastructure there, including to those countries that were invited to attend the Vilnius summit. I am talking about Australia, New Zealand, Japan and South Korea. Japan and South Korea already told that they are willing to deploy American nuclear weapons on their territory or to acquire their own. This is a seriously dangerous trend. We talked about this with our ASEAN colleagues, as well as with the Chinese representative, Director of China’s CPC Central Committee Foreign Affairs Commission Office Wang Yi, with whom we had a long meeting today.
Overall, the slogans about “Indo-Pacific strategies” remain appeals for public consumption by those who are interested in stirring up pseudo-sensations. The strategies are in fact being implemented; thus, there is the AUKUS bloc comprising the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia, which includes the implementation of a project directly related to the deployment of a nuclear state’s nuclear infrastructure on the territory of a non-nuclear state. Associations are being created that are directly aimed at dividing ASEAN. For instance, QUAD (the US, Japan, Australia and India) is actively promoting the idea of creating a new format, QUAD+ASEAN. In essence, these are the same participants in the East Asian Summits, but without Russia and China.
These are the consequences and intentions behind the “Indo-Pacific strategies.” They do not even try to conceal that these strategies are targeted against China and the Russian Federation. That is why Mr Wang Yi and I spoke in detail today about how to build our policy in this region. Our policy is based – as it should be because we agreed on it earlier – on the need to strengthen, not dilute, the central role of ASEAN and the need for all other countries in this region and non-regional countries that cooperate with ASEAN to respect the principles these relations were built on. The West shows no such respect, and does not respect the fundamental principle of a sovereign equality of states. In this case, its disrespect is especially striking.
Question: On Monday, the Foreign Ministry of Indonesia announced that during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ meeting, the member states would call on Russia and other nuclear powers to join the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone. Have you been contacted about this? Is Russia ready to join the treaty, and if so, on what conditions? What can you tell us about this considering that no discussion regarding the AUKUS countries have been planned?
Sergey Lavrov: This is an old issue. The so-called Bangkok Treaty was signed long ago. It is not the treaty itself Russia would be invited to join, but a protocol to it, under which nuclear states are invited to provide legally binding security guarantees to the signatory states.
We are ready to sign the protocol together with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council under one condition. It says, verbatim: We will provide legally binding guarantees to all the signatories of the Treaty on the Southeast Asia Nuclear Weapon-Free Zone if all the signatories comply with the treaty provisions not to have, not to create and not to deploy any elements of nuclear weapons. This is obvious. If any signatory were to violate its obligations, the issue of caveat-free and unconditional guarantees would take on a different meaning.
The thing is that there are certain risks, as it turned out. For example, Australia is a signatory of a similar nuclear weapons-free treaty, the Treaty of Rarotonga. We believe that it has violated its commitments under the treaty by reaching an understanding with the United States and Britain to deploy elements of nuclear weapons infrastructure on its territory. We cannot give any guarantees in this situation if any other signatory of the Bangkok Treaty follows in Australia’s steps. The Americans wouldn’t mind playing this game with certain ASEAN countries. There is reason to assume that they are considering such a plan.
Question: NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg has officially said at the Vilnius summit that the alliance would work closely with its EU and Asian partners against Russia and China. Does this formula surprise you? In principle, how would you assess the results of the summit, considering its vague statements regarding Ukraine?
Sergey Lavrov: I have known Jens Stoltenberg for a long time. He is not a poet but a man of Nordic temperament who speaks plainly. This is not the first such statement.
I have already mentioned the position papers of the United States and NATO which define Russia and China as threats and challenges. This time in Vilnius, he said that not only Russia’s and China’s plans but relations between them pose a threat to NATO. It turns out that we cannot even have any relations if they don’t allow it. This dead-end policy only confirms the importance of the task we have formulated together with many partners, which is to stand up against these modern forms of colonialism, attempt at hegemony in international affairs, and direct violations of the UN Charter principle on the practical respect for the sovereign equality of all states.
NATO is clearly not ready for this. There are signs of megalomania in every action of the bloc’s leadership and, actually, its member states. Everyone can see this. They sometimes make a Freudian slip, like Josep Borrell, who said that Europe is a garden, and the rest of the world is a jungle and should be treated accordingly. I don’t think that this policy has a future. They can resist the objective trends of global development for some time. Historically, their policy will not prevail, although this may take a long time.
Question: Can you clarify about Ukraine, the modest promises?
Sergey Lavrov: I am not going to say anything else about Ukraine. We have said so much on this issue. If anyone with the slightest apprehension, who can read, will review the text adopted in Vilnius on Ukraine, they will understand everything.
Question: The Western media is reporting that the Europeans plan to withdraw from the JCPOA. Both Parties accuse each other of breaching the agreement. What are the possible repercussions of this step?
Sergey Lavrov: As concerns the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action on Iran’s nuclear programme, adopted by the UN Security Council resolution, the agreement was broken by the United States as it refused, despite the provisions of the UN Charter, to comply with the resolution that approved the JCPOA through consensus. The Joe Biden administration declared it is ready to resume the programme and its involvement in it. But instead of taking specific decisions on resuming the resolution and the JCPOA in full, they started bargaining and pushing Iran’s representatives to agree on some things that are not covered by the JCPOA, and what they would like to get from Tehran on top of the plan. The bargaining continued for quite a long time. To our Iranian colleagues’ credit, in August 2022, when EU representatives, especially the European External Action Service, presented a document as subject to approval by all parties, Iran was ready. It was France, the UK and Germany that stalled the process. It is hard for me to see the reasons for this. Perhaps they wanted to push Iran to do something else. They saw that Iran was ready to agree and decided to push further and put the approval off. It is not very realistic to expect anything now because the United States is holding an election in a year. A new administration will arrive and nobody knows whether it will be Democratic or Republican. Nobody can guarantee that the new administration will not repeat the stunt of pulling out of the agreement.
During the talks on resuming the JCPOA, when all the conditions were discussed, Iran directly proposed to the Americans that the agreement be maintained “forever,” for the entire term and that no party make any attempt at terminating it early. The United States flatly refused under the pretext that they have their own system and every four years, a new administration comes in and disregards any previous agreements.
I am not very optimistic about the prospects of resuming the JCPOA. Another point is that, along with this stalled and withered process, the Iranians and the Americans are engaged in unofficial and direct contact below the radar on normalising their relations by unblocking Iran’s seized foreign reserves in exchange for deciding the fate of certain US citizens who were charged with breaking the law in Iran. We will only welcome any improvement in these relations. Once again, this has little to do with the JCPOA.
Question: After Azov Battalion fighters were sent to Kiev, you had a telephone conversation with Turkish Foreign Minister Hakan Fidan. How did he explain Ankara’s actions?
Sergey Lavrov: They made a public statement on this. I usually do not share the details of what partners tell me during our diplomatic meetings; we do not use this approach. This is rather what our Western colleagues are used to doing.
Question: As you know, back then, countries in this region suffered greatly from cluster munitions. Russia provided assistance in mine clearance – for instance, in Laos. Do you believe that such experience could bring the West to the realisation of their criminal intentions in supplying Ukraine with cluster munitions?
Sergey Lavrov: I do not think anything can bring the West to realise the criminal character, utter futility, or illegitimacy of the things they do all too often. The West will resolve specific issues depending on the political expediency at the moment; these are the rules it wants the world order to be based on, and which change on a case-by-case basis.
Laos was not the only state that suffered from cluster munitions during the anti-colonial wars. Cambodia suffered as much. Mine clearance efforts are still underway. We take an active part in providing assistance to Laos though the regular training of a large number of sappers, with our technology extensively used. I met with Lao Minister of Foreign Affairs Saleumxay Kommasith and discussed this issue. The Lao Foreign Ministry made a corresponding statement concerning the United States’ decision to send cluster munitions to Ukraine, warning it against this risky move.
Closed Door Meetings With Blinken, Wang and the East Asia Forum
Prior to this, on Tuesday (July 11) Lavrov attended the East Asia Forum, which includes all ASEAN members as well as China, Japan, South Korea, India, Australia, New Zealand, the United States and Russia. Lavrov also held, together with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and China’s Wang Yi, a closed-door East Asia regional forum in which they were expected to address pressing security issues from disputes in the South China Sea, to the ongoing conflict in Myanmar and the war in Ukraine.
South China Sea
Southeast Asian leaders are seeking to cool tensions between its two most important partners in China and the United States, stressing that the ASEAN region should remain nuclear weapons free.
Blinken stated that a US presence in the region is important for peace and stability, adding that the United States shares a vision of a “free, secure, prosperous, connected, and resilient” Southeast Asia. “What we’re doing together is trying to make that vision real in a very concrete way,” the US official said.
Indonesian’s foreign minister Retno Marsudi emphasized that the Indo-Pacific region is not a battlefield, citing a number of statements that the area is experiencing “symptoms of a cold war.”
“Our region must remain stable, and we intend to keep it that way,” Marsudi said. “The Indo-Pacific must not only become a net contributor of growth, but also a net contributor for peace that projects our paradigm of collaboration to other regions.”
Wang told Blinken that the US should stop suppressing China’s economic, trade and technology development, according to a government statement from Beijing. He also urged the US to end sanctions against China.
Marsudi also hoped that Russia could support the mainstreaming of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific (AOIP) and ASEAN’s work with its partners, saying that there are two areas of collaboration that need to be advanced.
First, cooperation in the field of food security. ASEAN plans to submit the Leaders’ Declaration on Strengthening Food and Nutrition Security to Respond to Crises at the 43rd ASEAN Summit in September. “Russia’s support for this initiative is crucial, considering its status as a global producer of wheat and fertiliser,” said Marudi.
Nuclear Weapons Free Zone
Second, ensuring a nuclear weapons-free zone in Southeast Asia. ASEAN was established to maintain long-term peace and inclusive prosperity in the region. This cannot be achieved without ensuring Southeast Asia remains a nuclear weapon-free zone. “Therefore, all nuclear-weapon states must advance non-proliferation and disarmament. For that, I hope Russia can accede to the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty Protocol as soon as possible,” said Marsudi.
However, in terms of the regional issue this has already been diminished in some respect by Australia’s decision to purchase nuclear submarines with the assistance of the United States.
Regarding security aspects, the meeting discussed the importance of cooperation in combating drug trafficking, terrorism, and cybercrime. ASEAN countries requested Russia’s accession to the Southeast Asia Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone (SEANWFZ) Treaty Protocol.
Lavrov affirmed Russia’s support for ASEAN’s centrality in building an inclusive regional architecture in the Indo-Pacific as the foundation for security and prosperity based on the principles of the UN Charter. They also called for peaceful conflict resolution and invited Russia to utilise ASEAN platforms such as the East Asia Summit (EAS) and ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF) to advance peaceful dialogue.
In the meeting, ASEAN countries pushed for enhanced economic, energy, and food security cooperation through the implementation of the 2021-2025 Plan of Action. They also encouraged cooperation in tourism, science and technology, smart cities, digital economy, and technology transfer.
ASEAN has condemned the continued acts of violence in Myanmar, one of its member states, including the use of air strikes, artillery shelling, and destruction of public facilities, according to a joint communiqué by Asean foreign ministers. All parties should “immediately halt indiscriminate violence, denounce any escalation, and create a conducive environment for the delivery of humanitarian assistance and inclusive national dialogue,” the statement said.
The group has been trying to pursue a so-called five-point peace proposal for Myanmar that would include ending violence and committing to free elections but there hasn’t been much progress.
Foreign ministers from ASEAN called on the immediate cessation of hostilities in Ukraine and the need for a genuine dialogue, according to a joint communiqué. “With regard to Ukraine, as for all nations, we continued to reaffirm our respect for sovereignty, political independence, and territorial integrity.” the statement said.
This is inconsistent with the United States position which has thus far maintained that a ceasefire would imply Russia is therefore awarded the territory it now possesses.
Unfortunately, despite the ‘peace’ rhetoric, the nature of the comments from the United States in particular, given that it is somewhat remote from ASEAN, are cause for some concern, especially as regards the South China Sea issue. Blinken’s comments appeared to indicate that Washington has every intent of inserting itself into ASEAN’s business and security, and that it has effectively gone beyond the role of a ‘dialogue partner’ to becoming an actual regional participant and intends to provide increasingly nuclear based weapons in the region to emphasize this, while using China as the reason to do so.
This means that the rhetoric in this forum was essentially moved away from ASEANs primary objective, which is trade, to a security objective. In this regard, ASEAN is moving closer to Russia to help counterbalance this attitude. Indonesian Foreign Minister Retno Marsudi stated that Russia has been a dialogue partner of ASEAN for over 26 years. Five years ago, this relationship was elevated to a Strategic Partnership. Marsudi stated that “A paradigm of collaboration is needed to save the world. As friends of both Russia and Ukraine, Indonesia is tireless in calling for peace. Our partnership must translate this paradigm into concrete actions,” he said.
This year marks the 5th anniversary of the ASEAN-Russia Strategic Partnership. The meeting adopted the Joint Statement of ASEAN and Russia Foreign Ministers on the Occasion of the 5th Anniversary of the ASEAN-Russia Strategic Partnership, which, among others, agreed on inclusive cooperation within the framework of the ASEAN Outlook on the Indo-Pacific. It remains to be seen how ASEAN and the East Asian countries can or wish to involve China and Russia as a collective barrier towards a non-nuclear ASEAN, however the deployment of nuclear submarines to Australia as well as China and Russia’s own nuclear capabilities suggest that this may merely be a matter of ‘when’. It also supposes that increased military activity and the potential for what Moscow and Beijing class as ‘proxy wars’ has moved a step closer in South East Asia.
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