GS-2, International Relations, Uncategorized

Eastern Economic Forum (EEF)

Context

  • Speaking at the Plenary Session of the 5th Eastern Economic Forum (EEF) in Vladivostok, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced that India would extend a $1 billion line of credit towards the development of the Russian Far East.
  • This was the first instance of an Indian prime minister attending the East Economic Forum.

Details

  • EEF was established by a decree of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, in 2015, with the aim of supporting the economic development of Russia’s Far East, and to expand international cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region.
    • It is a region extending between Lake Baikal – world’s largest freshwater lake and deepest lake, and the Pacific Ocean.
    • This is a region situated in the cold Siberian climate but more significantly, it shares borders with China, Mongolia, North Korea and Japan (maritime).
    • On its own, it could be the eight largest – just behind India – in terms of area, and fourth least densely populated country.
  • The Summits have roundtable conferences, panel sessions, business breakfasts, besides business dialogues and bilateral talks and agreements.

What has the EEF achieved till now?

  • There are as many as 17 different countries which have invested in the Far East, according to the EEF website.
  • These include regional and global heavyweights like China, Japan, South Korea, Australia, New Zealand, and Vietnam.
  • As a result, 20 advanced special economic zones and five free ports have been put in plac A total of 1,780 new investment projects, worth over 3.8 trillion rubles, and 230 new enterprises have become functional, the EEF website says.

Vladivostok

  • In Russian, Vladivostok is ‘Ruler of the East’. Located on the Golden Horn Bay north of North Korea and a short distance from Russia’s border with China, it is the largest port on Russia’s Pacific coast, and home to the Pacific Fleet of the Russian Navy.
  • It is the eastern railhead of the legendary Trans-Siberian Railway, which connects the Far East of Russia to the capital Moscow, and further west to the countries of Europe.
  • At Vladivostok’s massive port, shipping and commercial fishing are the main commercial activities. Automobiles are a major item of import at the port, from where they are often transported further inland.

Geostrategic Significance

  • Realizing its geostrategic significance, India opened a consulate in Vladivostok in 1992. India was the first country to have a resident consulate in Vladivostok then.
  • This Vladivostok-Chennai sea link is somewhat a counter to China’s Maritime Silk Route (MSR) plan as part of One Belt One Road project.
    • Vladivostok-Chennai shipping link is likely to pass through or very close to the South China Sea, which China has turned into an international geostrategic hotspot by claiming exclusive control over the resource rich maritime zone in the Pacific Ocean.
      • Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Taiwan have counter claims over the sea.
    • There is an alternate possibility as well that Vladivostok-Chennai link would become an extension of existing India-Japan Pacific to Indian Ocean Corridor, which China considers as a challenge to its maritime OBOR plan in the region
  • A busy Vladivostok-Chennai link means India strengthening its checks and balances equation with China.

The investment in the Far East, which is often neglected given that Russia is seen as a European power in the post-Soviet era, also underlines India’s desire to draw Russia into its strategic forays in the Indo-Pacific.

Economic Importance

  • An area of special interest for India is the exploration of hydrocarbon reserves along the coast of Russia’s Far East.
  • Russian Far East is a resource rich region in a hostile climate. It is rich in oil, natural gas, timber, gold and diamond among other resources. India requires all of them

Conclusion

  • Current engagement of India with this region is limited to select pockets such as Irkutsk where the MiG and Sukhoi fighter planes are built and in Sakhalin where ONGC Videsh has invested over $ 6 billion in oil and gas and exploration.
  • The maiden visit by an Indian prime minister to Vladivostok is set to strengthen India’s position in Asia-Pacific that has emerged as the kernel of future geo-strategy.
  • This push to ‘Act Far East’ allows India to demonstrate its commitment to an area of concern for Moscow, thus reassuring its traditional partner that in an increasingly polarised world, India is confident of working with multiple alignments, even if they are at cross purposes with each other.

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