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Strategic Culture

September 6, 2019
© Photo: Kremlin.ru

Several nations attended the annual Eastern Economic Forum this week in Vladivostok. The gathering shows the power of diplomacy and partnership for multilateral development. If only Western powers could learn.

All the more so because many of the nations attending the EEF have had long-running disputes: Russia-Japan, South Korea-North Korea, China-India, Mongolia-Japan, among others. But the willingness for these countries to engage and promote mutual development is a sure sign of the benefits of diplomacy and multilateralism working.

The main purpose of the EEF – now in its fifth year – is to bring investment and development to Russia’s far east. But the ambitious regional plan, in addition, holds huge promise of the entire hemispheric region. As former Singaporean ambassador to Russia Michael Tay put it this week: “The Russian far east is one of the most undiscovered opportunities for most businessmen.”

This week, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed separate comprehensive strategic partnerships with his Indian and Mongolian counterparts.

India’s Narendra Modi and Mongolia’s Khaltmaagiin Battulga both remarked how “relations with Russia were at their highest level”.

Putin also hosted Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during a three-day visit to Russia, including attendance at the Vladivostok forum.

The Russian and Japanese leaders said they hoped to advance negotiations on the long-running territorial dispute over the Kuril Islands.

India and South Korea also announced that they were forming a major partnership between their respective navies.

Evidently, multilateral relations flourish with mutual development and peaceful cooperation when nations engage in diplomacy and reciprocal respect. Billions of people benefit from the pooling of resources to materially uplift their daily lives, as well as from, ultimately, the dispelling of possible conflicts. All of the nations attending the EEF this week have at some time been involved in combative conduct, including disastrous wars. Yet today it is apparent, and indeed truly hopeful, that multilateralism can win over divisiveness and hostility.

One notable observation from this week was the dearth of reporting by Western media on the Vladivostok conference. Even though delegates to the forum included European investors. For such a major event, involving significant world leaders, to be largely ignored by Western media is unconscionably derelict. Consumers of such media can hardly appreciate the reality of a multilateral world taking shape. Secondly, more cynically, for the Western media to give any normal coverage on the EEF would inevitably confound their stereotypical portrayal of Russia as somehow an isolated, malign power.

Another notable observation is the stark contrast between the multilateralism on display at Vladivostok and the polarizing unilateralism of the United States. Scarcely a week goes by when Washington is not issuing more sanctions against one nation or another. This week, the Trump administration slapped further sanctions on Iran in a blatant attempt to shut down that country’s vital oil shipping industry. Washington even went as far as using bribes and blackmail in a bid to commandeer an oil tanker transporting Iranian export.

It is no exaggeration to say that America’s reckless antagonism towards Iran, China, Russia, and others, is the conduct more akin to that of a Mafia syndicate than a supposed democratic state, never mind the much-vaunted “leader of the free world”.

Sanctions, aggression, bullying and flouting of basic international norms of diplomacy have become the hallmark of the US. Even towards its supposed European allies, Washington has resorted to brazenly slapping them into line. The Trump administration rebuffed a French proposal to extend a $15 billion credit line to Iran, which is yet another American blow to the international nuclear accord. Germany was warned this week by US Senator Ted Cruz that it would be hit with sanctions over the Nord Stream 2 gas energy project with Russia.

If ever evidence was needed to demonstrate how much contempt the US has for European “allies”, there was plenty of it this week.

Yet the Europeans show a weird contradictory deference to Washington. The European Union this week extended sanctions against Russia – sanctions which are harming Europe’s faltering economy; sanctions which have primarily been prompted by the US.

A new era of multilateralism and multipolar development is unfolding whether the Western media acknowledge it or nor. That new era is epitomized by the successful gathering of East Asian nations in Vladivostok this week.

What is also abundantly clear is that the era of hegemony and treating others like vassals is coming to an end. It is unviable, unsustainable and unworthy. The world cannot afford the bickering unilateralism of the US and its European minions.

The views of individual contributors do not necessarily represent those of the Strategic Culture Foundation.