The 12th Asian Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club. Day 1
Valdai Discussion Club Conference Hall, Tsvetnoy Boulevard 16/1, Moscow, Russia
List of speakers

On Tuesday, December 7, the 12th Asian Conference of the Valdai Club, titled “Russia and Asia in a Changing World Order” began its work in Moscow. On the first day of the conference, three sessions were held. Two of them were broadcast online and will soon be available for viewing on our website.

The "Rise of Asia" is the most important geopolitical trend in recent decades. The rapid economic growth of Asian countries led analysts to project a shift in the global balance of power to the East and the beginning of the "century of Asia". Experts are actively discussing new prospects related to this unfolding development, including the participants of the Asian conferences of the Valdai Discussion Club. However, in recent years, these discussions have witnessed increasing wariness in connection with the growing trend towards confrontation in the region. The trade war between the United States and China, which first unfolded under President Trump, has developed into a full-fledged economic and political confrontation; the old integration structures are weakening and new alliances are emerging.

At the very beginning of the conference, Alexey Ovchinnikov, Director of the Department for Asian and Pacific Cooperation of the Russian Foreign Ministry, presented an assessment of the processes taking place in the Asia-Pacific region from the point of view of Russian diplomacy. According to him, the region is moving out of its comfort zone into a zone of turbulence, and a trigger for new geopolitical processes is the concept of the Indo-Pacific region (IPR). Answering the listeners' questions about why the Russian Foreign Ministry treats it so negatively, Ovchinnikov said that until 2017, when the concept was announced at the APEC summit by US President Trump, Russia had no questions about it, and, moreover, those countries which are promoting it today have completely ignored the Indo-Pacific cooperation projects. There is a reason for this: there are no objective characteristics, including economic ones, that make it possible to say that the Indo-Pacific region exists: the Asia-Pacific region and the Indian Ocean zone are developing at different speeds and have different degrees of integration. However, the inclusion of the United States into the Indo-Pacific agenda has given it a new dimension.

According to Ovchinnikov, the United States views the "Indo-Pacific" as a global project that goes far beyond the region, and its aim is deterrence. The core of the IPR is the Quad, which has dimensions extending to Latin America, the Middle East and the Euro-Atlantic; there is a rapprochement with the G7. Based on such a line, a huge number of minilateral structures begin to form. External players appear in the region - the leading European states have announced their IPR concepts, which more or less coincide with the American one. Under the banner of the IPR, the external players bring their military infrastructure and military potential to the region. The quintessence of the project was the AUKUS bloc created this year.

Of particular concern to Russia is the story of the irrelevance of ASEAN, a notion that was thrown into the regional discourse in 2020. The process of fragmentation of ASEAN security structures has begun, together with the desire of Western countries to act as curators of the unfolding transformation. All this can lead to extremely dangerous consequences, the Russian diplomat believes.

We note that later on, this topic was discussed in detail at the second, closed-door session of the conference. Its participants formulated a thesis about a discursive war in Asia, in which Western countries are still gaining the upper hand, as evidenced by the fact that the IPR  concept,  which appeared quite recently, has become the only mainstream, and the word “Asia”, as Ovchinnikov noted, is now actually a taboo in diplomatic language. However, experts also recalled that the now rejected term "Asia-Pacific region" had originated in Asia (specifically, in Japan) and was initially negatively perceived by Tokyo's Western allies. The APR concept - just like IPR today - began to be cultivated at a certain point thanks to the approval of Washington, having realised that it could serve to strengthen American hegemony.

How should Russia act, given that it is obviously losing the ‘battle of words’? Two answers were offered. The first was to act in its own way, to promote its vision and be ready to “pay in full for the fact that Russia did not want to bend” or to formulate its vision of the IPR. The second was to try to make contact with those players who are ready for a dialogue and understand why they value this concept.

During the first session, the experts discussed the impact of the pandemic on development and international politics in Asia. They agreed that Asian countries have addressed the pandemic better than countries elsewhere, without losing  economic growth. The experience of previous pandemics, well-developed public health systems, and the active use of digital technologies in medicine are cited as the reasons for this success. But, above all, the crisis caused by the pandemic showed that the Asian countries could manage to find a balance between the interests of the individual and society, said Igor Makarov, Head of the Department of World Economy at the Higher School of Economics.

Success in combating the pandemic is transforming the way Asians view themselves. Today, they are gaining new confidence, believing that they have something to share with the world, and eliminating the inferiority complex inherent in previous generations, said Dino Patti Jalal, founder and director of the Indonesian Foreign Policy Community. At the same time, according to him, no country in Asia wants to be a global leader, even China would prefer to be a leader à la carte, that is, in those areas where it considers it appropriate. This view was shared by Wang Wen, Executive Dean of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. He pointed out that being a global leader is too difficult and resource-intensive.

The third session, which ended the first day of the conference, was devoted to the question "What Can Asia and Russia Give Each Other?" This issue regularly appears on the agenda of the Asian conferences of the Valdai Club, and the evolution of answers to it allow one to judge the changing perception of Russia and the Asian countries of their place in the world and the nature of interaction. The range of issues on which Russia and Asia can mutually cooperate is extremely wide: it includes energy, digitalisation, and biotechnology, but today the “green agenda” is coming to the fore: how successfully we will be able to restructure, in accordance with its requirements, both our economic future and our place in the changing world order.

We remind you that the 12th Asian Conference of the Valdai Discussion Club “Russia and Asia in a Changing World Order” is being held in Moscow on December 7-8, 2021. More details about the 2021 forum and the text broadcast of the first and third sessions can be found on our social networks. We are on FacebookVkontakteInstagram, and Telegram.
Stay tuned!