The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Forum: A Look at Russia’s Participation
The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Assembly (AIPA) held meetings in Phnom Penh yesterday (November 23), including an AIPA session with Russia.
According to veteran journalist Peter Starr, who was both present and a participant in the sessions, the Russian delegation was greeted as ‘old friends’ with plenty of smiles and back-slapping. (We will cover content in a separate article). The AIPA-Russia session was completely booked with very little standing place left. The Russian-speaking General who heads the Lao Parliamentary Committee on defense was particularly welcoming – as was the Singapore delegation. Singapore has been holding free trade negotiations with Russia concerning the Eurasian Economic Union, suspended at present due to the Ukraine conflict. Nonetheless, the prospect of these being resumed at a later stage cannot be ruled out. The same reception was afforded to the Belarus delegation at the ASEAN-Belarus dialogue, held earlier in the morning sessions.
The ASEAN-Ukrainian delegation meetings took place in a small reception room whereas the US delegation meanwhile hired the Grand Ballroom and had a significant delegation – although their event was sparsely attended. The United States was, however, upgraded to Observer status with the AIPA along with Azerbaijan and Nepal.
The handling of these events is key in Asia where subtle actions can mean a great deal. The Americans were perceived as brash and domineering – a no-no in Asia, especially the more conservative nations, such as host Cambodia, where such displays are considered a mark of arrogance.
Ukraine was considered almost persona non-grata – with nothing to sell except complaints and anti-Russian rhetoric – a message that is never going to go down well in Cambodia or ASEAN at large where Russia is a major trade partner and Ukraine is not. The exporting of Ukrainian grievances to markets in Asia and previously this year, in Latin America.
Ukraine did sign a ‘Treaty of Amity and Cooperation’ with ASEAN, which upholds peace ties between Kiev and ASEAN. Ukraine accounted for just 0.01% of ASEAN trade, with Russia’s share at just 0.53% in 2021, however, those figures can be expected to have declined in Ukraine’s trade and jumped significantly for Russia. ASEAN and its members – especially AIPA host Cambodia – have long ties with Moscow and are mindful of Russia’s capabilities in the energy and agricultural fields. ASEAN’s energy needs are expected to grow by 20% by 2030, powering a population of 622 million and a current GDP of US$2.5 trillion. ASEAN’s GDP growth rate was 6.5% in 2021.
The message for Ukraine is depressingly clear: when attending regional forums, one needs to consider Russia’s role in the region and what Kiev can offer respective stakeholders. It remains unclear how long Western powers will continue to provide backing given the global economic climate. ASEAN, clearly, isn’t interested in what Ukraine has to say – why would they be? It isn’t their conflict and Ukraine barely registers in trade and investment.
As for the United States, their display of financial, economic and military might isn’t really cutting the mustard either. A humbler approach, with a greater appreciation and understanding of ASEAN’s Russian and Chinese ties, rather than seeking to ferment conflict, may be a better approach.
Moscow, however, will see the reception given to it at the AIPA forum as the shape of things to come.
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