SOCHI, Russia — A two-day meeting between Russian and ASEAN leaders here ended Friday with an agreement to build a strategic partnership that includes military technology cooperation as part of the international fight against terrorism.
Russia’s first summit with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on its home soil was attended by the leaders of all members of the regional economic bloc except for the Philippines. The summit in the Black Sea resort town also provided a stage for the first-ever meeting of their defense ministers.
The joint communique released after the meeting contains an agreement for Russia to boost arms exports to ASEAN members as well as plans to promote information sharing to fight terrorism.
Moscow also proposed a free trade agreement between ASEAN and the Russia-led Eurasian Economic Union. The idea is included in the communique as an item to be considered in the future.
Russia is believed to want to pull ASEAN into its economic cooperation framework to counter U.S.-led trade initiatives such as the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement. Representatives of the EEU, the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, whose members include Russia, China and Central Asian countries, also were invited to the summit.
The communique also refers to territorial disputes between China and some ASEAN members in the South China Sea. The document supports speedier adoption of a “code of conduct” and advocates talks on national security issues in the region at the East Asian summits, whose participants include Russia, the U.S. and China.
Russia has maintained neutrality over the South China Sea disputes. Beijing had asked Moscow to take its side, but Russia must consider its good relations with Vietnam and others, a government official said.
As rising tensions with China prompt ASEAN members to boost their military capabilities, the region has become a bigger export market for Russia’s military industry. ASEAN accounted for just 6% of Russia’s weapons exports in 2010, but the figure rose to 15% in 2015. President Vladimir Putin also expressed optimism for Russia’s nuclear plant exports to the ASEAN bloc.
When asked about Moscow’s long-standing territorial dispute with Japan during a post-summit news conference, Putin indicated his intention to improve relations with Tokyo through dialogue, noting that Japan is an important partner. When asked whether he is considering selling disputed territories back to Japan, he replied that Russia sees economic cooperation and its negotiations toward a peace treaty with Japan as separate issues.