Mr Co-Chairman
Excellencies
Ladies and Gentlemen

On behalf of my ASEAN colleagues, I would like to extend a very warm welcome to His Excellency Sergey Lavrov, Minister for Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation to this year’s Post Ministerial Conference Session with ASEAN. This is His Excellency Lavrov’s debut at the Post Ministerial Conference. We look forward to having a robust exchange with Russia on how we can bring momentum to the ASEAN-Russia Dialogue.

The recent landslide re-election of President Vladimir Putin reflects the strong faith the Russian people have in the President’s leadership and political vision. With President Putin at the helm, Russia is well placed to continue its path towards greater prosperity. Already, the growth rate for 2003 was an impressive 7.2%. Russia also enjoys a favourable balance of payment. On foreign policy, Russia continues to play an important role in the international stage. A permanent member of the United Nations Security Council and a member of 08, Russia is also a key driver in regional initiatives such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Collective Security Treaty Organization. It is also an active player in the ongoing Six Party Talks and an active participant in the ASEAN Region Forum. These webs of cooperative engagements reinforce Russia’s constructive role in promoting peace and security in the region.

Individually, ASEAN countries are also building up our linkages with Russia.
ASEAN countries are only beginning to appreciate and understand how far Russia has moved after the fall of the Soviet Union and the uncertain years of the new Russia. We are still on a slow learning curve about Russia. Hence, for ASEAN, the Dialogue with Russia provides an important instrument to help build and develop our understanding of Russia and its political and economic priorities.

It is clear that in the next few years, one of Russia’s major priorities will be
Europe. The enlargement of the EU and the changing nature of NATO will be of immediate concern to Russia. However, Russia’s geopolitical weight and its economic growth will demand that Russia is also focussed on developments in Asia. ASEAN and its mechanisms like the Dialogue, the PMC process and the ARF, offer Russia opportunities to engage a broad spectrum of major players in the region and to help shape the evolving security and economic environment.

For these reasons, the ASEAN-Russia Dialogue Relationship is an integral part of ASEAN’s wider engagement with the region. Politically, the Dialogue allows us to exchange views on important regional and international issues of mutual interest. The economic and functional aspect of the Dialogue is also another key pillar of our relationship. ASEANRussia trade for the year 2002 amounted to US$2.05 billion. There is room to expand our economic linkages. A burgeoning Russian economy will need to seek overseas markets. Southeast Asia is a familiar place for Russian businessmen, and people from both regions have a common shared history. ASEAN’s 500 million people offers a ready market for Russian products. The conclusion of the Economic Cooperation Agreement will also help encourage substantive and practical areas of cooperation.

Last Year, ASEAN and Russia signed the Joint Declaration of the Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations on Partnership for Peace and Security, and Prosperity and Development in the Asia-Pacific Region. This year, we have made even more progress. At the officials’ level, two meetings – the 3rd ASEAN-Russia Joint Planning and Management Committee and the 4th ASEANRussia Senior Officials Meeting were held in Singapore. In Jakarta, we will sign the ASEANRussian Federation Joint Declaration for Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism. The ASEAN-Russian Federation Joint Declaration for Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism demonstrates Russia’s seriousness and sincerity in engaging ASEAN and will no doubt forge even closer ties between ASEAN and Russia. We also welcome Russia’s impending accession to the Treaty of Amity and Cooperation in Southeast Asia and this will be another step towards building extensive and deep relations with Russia.

I would like to conclude by saying that as Country Coordinator for the ASEANRussia Dialogue Relationship, Singapore is pleased with the progress of our cooperation with Russia over the past year. We look forward to working with you, and our ASEAN friends, to make further progress on the Dialogue.