Eastern Economic Forum, 2022: Outcomes and Implications

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The Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) is an organization that helps to promote the expansion of global collaboration in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as the growth of the economy in the Far Eastern region of Russia. It acts as a venue for the debate of global issues such as regional integration, national difficulties overseas, technical breakthroughs, and changes in the economy and various sectors. Since 2015, Vladimir Putin, the President of Russia, has been the driving force behind the yearly organization of the Eastern Economic Forum. The purpose of this conference is to link and strengthen economic and commercial relations between Russia’s Far East and nations in Asia and the Pacific. As of the year 2022, there are roughly 2729 investment projects that are in the planning stages in the region. These projects are mostly concentrated on infrastructure, transportation, and other areas. This year’s World Economic Forum was attended by almost 7,000 people and media representatives from 68 nations and territories, including Russia. Additionally, approximately 1,700 business leaders from 700 businesses were in attendance. Representatives from China, Myanmar, Mongolia, India, Armenia, and South Korea made up the largest foreign delegations.  Participating at the Forum for the very first time were delegates from Algeria, Ghana, the Dominican Republic, the Donetsk People’s Republic, Zambia, Cameroon, Liberia, and Uganda. Other countries represented included Cameroon, Zambia, and Uganda.

What does the EEF aim for?

The primary objective of the EEF is to increase the Foreign Direct Investments in the RFE. The region encompasses one-third of Russia’s territory and is rich with natural resources such as fish, oil, natural gas, wood, diamonds and other minerals. However, Russia believes that it can survive the economic crisis and the sanctions with the help of China and other Asian powers. Although, the EEF is an annual gathering, the forum comes at an opportune time for Russia who is dealing with the impact of the sanctions. Moreover, the coming together of countries like Myanmar, Armenia, Russia, and China seems like the forming of an anti-sanctions group in the international order.

Importance of the recent forum

The international relations have undergone what can only be described as “irreversible tectonic upheavals.” It is the emerging countries that have become the centres of economic and technical progress, particularly those in the Asia-Pacific area. Since the beginning of the war in Ukraine and the imposition of significant western sanctions, all of the developments have occurred at an unstoppable rate. In addition, the Western world has started to revive the well-known “Euro-Atlantic unity,” which has positioned the current state of international affairs on the precipice of a paradigm transition. As a result, the most recent EEF forum represents an important development. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, has put it this way “Our idea and the world’s idea of multipolarity is that the world should be much more just, the world should not be based on the dictates of a country that imagines itself to be the representative of God on earth, and perhaps even higher, and bases all its policies on its alleged exceptionalism.  We have to respect other countries’ interests and treat them as equal regardless of the size of their territory, their GDP or whether their army has advanced weapons.” It is possible to gauge the significance of the recent meeting by looking at this remark, which places an emphasis on a new multipolar world. In addition, the “EEF” region is situated in a strategic location, which allows it to function as a gateway into Asia.

Forum 2022: players and stakes

Chinese focus of the Forum this year is on bridging the gap between East Asia and the rest of the Asia-Pacific. As it sees opportunity in advancing the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative and the Polar Sea Route in the RFE, China has become the region’s largest investor. Ninety percent of all investments in the region are made by China. China’s investments have been encouraged in Russia since 2015, but the invasion of Ukraine has increased the country’s need for them. By connecting Russia and China, the Trans-Siberian Railway has facilitated economic growth for both countries. The border between the two nations is almost 4,000 kilometers long, making it possible for them to share infrastructure and benefit from each other’s wealth. The province of Heilongjiang, which is linked to the RFE, is another area that China is eager to develop. By working together on a 1,080-meter bridge between Blagoveshchensk and Heihe, which will supply the towns with natural gas, and a rail bridge between Nizhneleninskoye and Tongjiang, China and Russia have poured money into a fund to develop north-eastern China and the RFE.

Additionally, South Korea has been steadily increasing its investments in the area. The South Korean government has financed several industries including shipbuilding, electrical equipment production, gas liquefaction facilities, farming, and fisheries.

Japan is also a major commercial partner. Twenty-one projects with Japanese investment brought in a total of $16 billion in 2017. However, the Kuril Islands are contested territory between Japan and Russia, trade between the two countries has suffered.

India has ambitions to increase its clout in the RFE. Energy, pharmaceuticals, marine connections, healthcare, tourism, the diamond industry, and the Arctic are all areas where India is eager to increase its collaboration. It has been announced that diamond and pharmaceutical agreements have been initiated between the states of Gujarat and the Republic of Sakha.

Economic domain of the forum

The business program’s discussions focused on many pillars, including the economy, banking, the logistics market, international relations, and the development of education, healthcare, and patriotic education. Firstly, the participants shared their views on the current state and future of international relations and the development of the economy, investment, industry, and other spheres of the region. Secondly, the forum discussions about the future of individual sectors of the Russian economy not only emphasized the priorities for the development of the Far East and its current problems, but also the scale of the strategic tasks that the country faces as the new architecture of the world order emerges. Moreover, a new strategy also needs to be introduced for the development of Far Eastern cities and territories based on the key principle of ensuring a high living standard for the population of the Far East in terms of education, medicine, sports, culture, and the preservation of traditions. Also, the forum raised the issue that Vladivostok could become Russia’s international tourist gateway to the Asia-Pacific region. Thirdly, the forum highlighted the development of the Baikal-Amur Mainline and Trans-Siberian Railway; a new supply system to ensure deliveries to northern Russia; the Northern Shipping Route; and the development of airport infrastructure to ensure the air transport accessibility of the Far East and Arctic.

Agreements during the forum

Investment agreements, memorandums of understanding, and letters of intent were signed during the Forum in unprecedented numbers. Including agreements on infrastructure and transit projects, the development of huge mineral reserves, as well as construction, industry, and agriculture, a total of 296 agreements worth RUB 3.272 trillion were signed. Among the agreements are ones for the master planning of the cities of Petropavlovsk-Kamchatsky, Ulan-Ude, and Magadan, the integrated development of a mining cluster in the Republic of Sakha (Yakutia), and a project to build the city of Sputnik in the Republic of Sakha.

Most agreements by industry

  • Socioeconomic development of regions – 80
  • Education and science – 35
  • Transport and logistics – 33
  • Industry and construction – 29
  • Investment and banking – 17
  • High technologies and telecommunications – 16
  • Environment and nature protection – 15
  • International cooperation – 15

Challenges for the Forum

As a consequence of the Russia-Ukraine war, the supply chain might be affected. Furthermore, China accounts for almost 90% of investments in this area, illustrating the country’s dominance. India, on the other hand, cannot match with China’s huge investment. Although it will help India diversify its energy needs, the total logistical costs involved with mining and delivering raw materials, crude oil, and so on will rise. Many multilateral bodies, including the US effort, IPEF, and the RCEP, may compel India to concede on a variety of fronts. Nonetheless, action in this region may harm Japan’s, South Korea’s, and other nations’ national interests due to territorial disputes such as the Senkaku Islands and US concerns about sanctions after a conflict.

In conclusion, the Eastern Economic Forum is trying to deepen the economic linkages that exist between countries as part of its mission. Russia is considerably taking action towards the partners in enhancing their ties and ensuring economic development as a result of increased mining output, improvements in the agriculture sector, and a wide variety of other elements within this forum.

– S. M. Saifee Islam is a Research Associate at the KRF Center for Bangladesh and Global Affairs (CBGA).

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