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Inertia on the eve of change

Dmitry Shelest gives forecast for the development of the Asia-Pacific region in 2018 year

In the first month of the new year, we were hit by quite a lot of forecasts for 2018 year. Without trying to challenge the opinion of experts, even if their views fix diametrically opposed expectations from the future, we will try to look at the future through the prism of the upcoming events in 2018. And based on this, we will try to catch some trends and the likelihood of their occurrence in the Asia-Pacific region (APR) and the influence on the eastern part of the Russian Federation.

Inertia on the eve of change

Dmitry Shelest

Deputy Director of the Expert-Analytical Center of the Far Eastern Federal University
Assessing the situation in the region as a whole, it is appropriate to assume that the states of the Pacific Basin, in fact, are "preparing" for a new decade of the 21st century. We are talking about the fact that there are enough problems in the world and the region, the solution of which is impossible within the current paradigm of international relations. Most players are well aware of this, but driven by a certain inertia, adhere to the established norms in making foreign policy decisions. At the same time, there is only one thing for the realization that the modern world order is a new puzzle, there is only one thing - to start acting differently. Nevertheless, the probability that the eighteenth year will become a continuation of the seventeenth is more prevalent. 

So, if we talk about the key player in the region, then this is China. Beijing this year plans to hold another Boao Asian Forum (Hainan Province), which is called "eastern Davos". This year, Beijing will also demonstrate its vision of economic globalization within the framework of the One Belt and One Path project. This event will take place against the backdrop of growing competition in the South China Sea, where the interests of India, China, the United States, Japan and Southeast Asian countries converge. At the same time, Beijing needs to solve many internal tasks. This is the introduction of environmental legislation, and an attempt to prevent the inflation of the "bubble" in the real estate market and the need to balance the growth of GDP with social policies. All this is possible with an increase in the flow of investment abroad, and most likely, representatives of China will negotiate precisely in this direction.

Events of "local" significance - this is the second and third plenary sessions of the CPC Central Committee of the XIX convocation, the National People's Congress of the 13 convocation will be significant for the foreign policy of the PRC as a continuation of the Xi Jinping course. The mentioned measures will fix the next stage of rotation of the party top, changes will be made to the constitution of the country, anti-corruption legislation will be expanded. In 2018, an environmental tax on environmental pollution in China was earned, which could result in the removal of "dirty" productions outside the state. Other intentions include carrying out at least 35 launches of space rockets, including the delivery of the lunar module Chang'e-4. Along with the acceptance of Dongfeng 41 intercontinental ballistic missiles for combat duty and the planned descent of the aircraft carrying cruiser of the 001-A project, Beijing's intentions make an impression, but do not make the world more calm.

Returning to international events, the upcoming 18 Summit of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Qingdao, which is important primarily for the main participants - Moscow and Beijing, cannot be circumvented. It should be noted that for India this will be the second year of participation in an international organization, which generally implies New Delhi’s attempts to gradually increase its international influence. In this regard, India should be expected to gradually increase its presence in the Asian Pacific, but without undue rapprochement with partners in the Pacific.

Another, no less significant participant in the changes in the APR, the United States enters the 2018 year in a somewhat embarrassed state. In the US ahead of the Congressional elections and re-elections to the State Senate. If we add to this the election of the governors of 36 states and smoldering conflicts in American society, it can be understood that all foreign policy actions of Washington will be oriented towards the "internal consumer". In such conditions, the Washington elite will continue to seek enemies outside of North America. Accordingly, talk about improving relations with Russia can only be done for a short period of time and then, based on momentary tactical considerations. In general, in the Russian-American relations, traditional diplomacy will work with large disruptions, and steps towards meeting will be accompanied by equivalent hostile actions. Most likely, pressure will be exerted on China, including on territorial issues in the South China Sea, Taiwan and economic cooperation, whether it's the RMB exchange rate or the China-US trade imbalance. Rhetoric regarding North Korea will change from readiness for negotiations to another demonstration of strength, but the power approach will continue to dominate.

In my opinion, attempts to discern some kind of consistency in Washington's policy, the creation of some kind of friendly network in the APR or the formation of geopolitical positions looks more like a sign of the engagement of a number of experts than really characterizes the capabilities of the United States. The "secret" of a powerful power lies in the fact that Washington is not able to offer anything real, even to its partners, neither in the alleged regional theater of military operations, nor in the political aspect.

At the same time, the confidence in the presence of a clear strategy of Washington in relation to the Pacific basin is also melting among the US allies. There is also no clear understanding of how and with whom of the representatives of the American establishment one can negotiate today, does not allow simulating any sane structure of the United States' Pacific policy. The year that has begun will most likely demonstrate “confusion and vacillation” in the camp of Washington's imaginary and real partners in the APR. And if the ties with Japan, Australia and Taiwan retain the character of a real partnership, then it is somewhat premature to talk about the creation or development of new alliances. The story of the failure of the Trans-Pacific Partnership was just a prelude to the future state of affairs. At a time when American power from the total domination of the 90s and early 2000s turns into uncontrollable outbursts of rage, the rest of the states of Pacific Asia will begin to build their plans focusing on the new reality.

The states of the Korean peninsula are already demonstrating efforts to "non-American" solution of the problem. The readiness of the DPRK to take part in the XXIII Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang received a response in Seoul, where they expressed their readiness to accept the sports team "northerners", as well as hold talks with the military, discuss the problem of separated families and other issues. In the future, we should expect from Pyongyang a new foreign policy strategy, when rhetoric about the "American puppets" (South Korea, Japan) will come to naught, with the appropriate course of interested states. In turn, even if this happens, the DPRK leader is unlikely to restrain insulting statements and demonstrative militarism towards the US in 2018.    

Japan in 2018 will begin to act in all directions. Paradoxically, the Land of the Rising Sun will hold a year of Russian culture at home (the Russian state is respectively holding a year of Japanese culture), with the purchase and deployment of the North American Aegis Ashore missile defense system in the Japanese archipelago and, in general, record expenses of 46,1 billion defense. It can be assumed that the words of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe "time to act" in 2018 will become a time not only for cultural exchanges, but also for intensifying confrontation with China, further pressure on Moscow on the problem of the "Northern Territories", a possible withdrawal of the Japanese Self-Defense Forces in the -China Sea, attempts to put together an anti-Chinese coalition and destabilize the situation on the Korean Peninsula.

Under these conditions, China's negotiations with other countries in the basin of the South China Sea are likely to be initiated with a view to reaching a compromise in shipping and sharing areas of interest (fishing, hydrocarbon production). This will be facilitated by the 32 meeting of heads of state and government of the ASEAN member countries in Singapore, where the countries of Southeast Asia will solve the problems of economy and security focusing more on their nearest neighbors.

The main event in Russia will certainly be the presidential election. Few people doubt the victory of the incumbent head, regardless of the positive or negative perception of this event. But whoever was elected president of Russia, he will also have to prepare Russia for the third decade of the XXI century. In this respect, the events that will develop in the Pacific basin will give a definite chance for increasing the political weight of Russia in the APR. Given the anticipated development of events, Moscow has every chance to become a party to political and economic processes in the face of disorientation of both the leading players in the region and the "second plan" states. At the same time, you should not flatter yourself and expect that Russia will suddenly find in the APR an influence comparable to that of the United States or China.  

The event series in the Far East will be focused on the strategic involvement of Russia in international processes in the Asian part of the Pacific Ocean. In terms of image and politics, and then only economically, the most significant event will be the Fourth Eastern Economic Forum (EEF-2018).

And such events as the first manned launch at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, the Far East air show in Komsomolsk-on-Amur will present samples of military and consumer equipment will be a sign of seriousness of Moscow's intentions towards the east.
In the same vein, the opening in 2018 of the second oil transportation line to the Celestial Empire, in addition to the already operating direction for the supply of hydrocarbons Skovorodino-Daqing, should be taken. And no matter how much our trade relations with China are criticized, they are precisely the guarantee of a calm transition of Russia into the next decade, because the growing dominance of China depends on peaceful relations with Russia.

In conclusion, we can add that the world in general and the Asia-Pacific region, if viewed as systems, are still in an unstable state and will keep this trend in the next year or two. Under these conditions, Russia's short-term goal is not to become a bargaining chip in the games of the Pacific giants in the conduct of foreign policy, while preserving the progressive development of an economic and social nature within the country.
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