Meeting of the East: Vladivostok Forum Became Conference Ground for All Asian Leaders
This is Saturday Vesti, and I'd like to start by thanking my colleagues from such reputable media as BBC, NBC, HBO, Voice of America, CCTV, and so on, which have buried us in messages and calls about how we could ask Putin about Srkipal case. I should say it was no easy task to squeeze such a question into the EEF agenda. For our guests from Asia — China, Mongolia, Japan, Korea — these European cases are far-away business.
Organizers of such forums take risks in a way by inviting us, journalists, as moderators. Well, we do have a ready tongue, but we want all of it. But there was another circumstance. I'm especially grateful for serving as a moderator in this session in Vladivostok because its organizers were very well aware of one more thing about me. Indeed, I've had interviews with all the session participants except the Korean one in recent years, I've traveled a lot in the Far East, I liked what I saw, especially in Russia, however, I've been repeatedly saying, even in this studio, I'm not among those who think the «turn to the East» is the solution for all the problems. For me, the relations with Asia indeed should've happened long ago and they supplement but they can't replace our relations with Europe, which are uneasy but invaluable. In this regard, I had to be lucky both on stage and off stage.
For instance, there are no sanctions in Asia but, except for Mongolia, all the participants of the plenary meeting have territorial issues with their neighbors. How do they discuss cooperation then? At the same time, sanctions have been imposed all over the place in Europe but there's the Helsinki Final Act with its territorial integrity. So, how do these things correlate? In our report, there are things you've seen on stage as well as what we've seen and heard behind the stage before and after the session. It can be difficult to hear, so follow the subtitles.
Eastern Economic Forum
All other cameras were outside the frosted glass, inside, only we had the unique opportunity — to watch President Putin receive the guests in an informal setting. The first was the Korean premier.
To be honest, although this was the first time I saw Putin's guest, he was the easiest — he's come from journalism. At the meeting, he was speaking as we do.
Moon Jae-in: «This time, I've come by plane. But next time, I'd like to come to Vladivostok by train. I ask the leaders to cooperate for implementation of this dream».
This isn't an easy dream. In this field, we, current journalists, know even more than statesmen do. We had a story about the gates at the border between Russia and Korea. But that was the border with North Korea. But in order to get to Vladivostok from Seoul, you'll have to cross the border between two Koreas. For now, there are US troops on guard under the UN flag. The day before, English and Hong Kong media reported Americans didn't allow the southerners to work out the question of connecting the railroads of the North and the South.
In the meantime, the prime minister of Japan has come to Putin. We interviewed him this spring. We can even explain what those badges on his lapel are. Later in the session, it'll become clear — the claret red vignette means a parliament member, the blue stripe is the sign of the campaign of solidarity to the Japanese captured by North Korea. When Shinzō Abe told Putin of how many Japanese were still kept in North Korea, the Russian President became visibly upset. However, we have one common issue in relation to North Korea.
— We had the G6 meeting about Iran issues. We know President Trump's opinion on the topic. He met Kim Jong-Un. Is there a possibility that if America holds the talks with North Korea single-handedly, it will end up as the Iran case? When it seemed to be settled, but at the end, the agreements were just violated.
Vladimir Putin: «The point is the agreement was basically between Iran and the USA. To be honest, we were just supporting the process. The basis for everything was their agreements. Indeed, such things can happen to us, but it doesn't mean we shouldn't do something and move forward».
When Head of the People's Republic of China came into the room behind the stage before the session it's most interesting how he greeted the Japanese premier. They had a bilateral meeting in Vladivostok. But the Chinese premier has recently visited Tokyo for the first time in seven years. Chinese often come to Russia, but we had an interview four years ago. Surprisingly, President Xi remembered our meeting at once.
— I thought we look the same for the Chinese.
By the way, our joke about being the same for Chinese was repeated by the Chinese national television after we told them about the situation. Concerning what happened behind the scene later, we should've reserved the right to ask more questions in the course of the session. During the session, Xi told the story this Chinese young man, whose wish to study in Russia was found in the ocean sealed in a bottle. And now he's studying here.
— Mr. President Xi, maybe it's too much for me, but I remember our interview in Sochi during the Olympics, when you allowed to ask you a personal question about what you were reading, but now after your touching story about the letter in a bottle I can't help but recall when Kim Jong-Un flew by a Chinese plane to Singapore, did you happen to leave a letter for him there?
Xi Jinping: “I think that the summit in Singapore was a good thing. I think we all agree. We approve of such a meeting between the leaders of the USA and North Korea. There can't be development and prosperity without peace and stability.”
Even before that, the president of Mongolia came to the room behind the scene. We had met him and discussed the agenda the day before.
— I hear some familiar words in your speech, do you understand what I'm saying? Have you learned Russian in school?
Khaltmaagiin Battulga: No.
— Come on, say it in Russian!
— We learned Russian after our fourth grade. Our teacher was from Ulan-Ude.
— So, it stayed with you.
In the meantime, PM Abe was generous with compliments. He told how he was in a restaurant in Vladivostok.
Vladimir Putin: «Xi Jinping and I were treated with honey and pancakes yesterday. We walked through the rows of stalls on the quay. Fishermen gave us some caviar. I'm more a herring fan than caviar. But I had to taste that. I didn't want to offend them».
— With the united railroad here should come united settlements. You've been mentioning numbers in dollars. Let's start simple — you walked with Vladimir Putin yesterday, I've seen the footage, maybe I didn't hear right, it seemed to me that somebody lent another money or something, some of you wanted to pay in rubles, another one — in yuans, you were buying caviar or herring, I don't remember.
— It was honey.
— Yes, honey, right. It was hard to hear, I didn't understand this thing about rubles and yuans. What exchange rate did you use?
Almost all the leaders continued this joke with some serious reasoning about the fact that settlements in national currencies should be worked out. After the session, however, Abe explained it depends on the energy resources prices and the USA.
— America? America! Rings a bell… Is it a country?
But in the session, it was a different Russian-Japanese turn.
— Vladimir Vladimirovich, I'm saying probably the most terrible words in my entire life — I decided to put myself in your place. And I thought. There was the 1956 Moscow Declaration, a display of goodwill, the mention of the two islands and the possible peace treaty. But after that, the situation started changing not in the direction of the «goodwill» quite rapidly. There was the deployment of American troops on the islands, including offensive forces. During your negotiations, have you touched upon the topic, what if today's Russian Southern Kuril Islands, which are key islands for the access to the Pacific Ocean, what if American troops will appear there as well? Was it touched upon during the negotiations?
Vladimir Putin: «First of all, I want to say Shinzō is right. Both of us want to come to the peace treaty conclusion. The security issues are crucial. We discuss them including the position you've mentioned. Indeed, we are concerned about the advancing American anti-missile defense. We discuss all of it. I won't go into details, I'd rather start from the point Shinzō was talking about. We've been negotiating for 70 years. Shinzō said we need to change our approach. I agree. This is an idea has crossed my mind — let's conclude the peace treaty, not now but by the end of the year. Without any preconditions».
— What do the countries with peace and territorial issues with Japan say?
Moon Jae-in: «Chinese leader Xi Jinping said the following: if the current generation isn't wise enough to solve the problem, then the next generation will have to solve it».
Xi Jinping: «We need to draw a lesson from history. I wish to those countries facing such problems hope that those problems will be settled down in the nearest future».
Probably, the happiest of the leaders was the president of Mongolia. The Yalta Conference is in Mongolia's history forever, at which the Soviet Union raised the question that other great states recognize the independence and territorial integrity of the Mongolian People's Republic.
— What do you think, taking into account, the number of territorial issues is the cooperation between our countries possible?
Khaltmaagiin Battulga: I wish other state leaders viewed the problem as you do. There are problems between Japan and Korea, between Korea and China, between North Korea and South Korea.
— By the way, we don't have problems, Japan has some issues with us.
Vladimir Putin: We had territorial disputes with the People's Republic China. We were negotiating on the issue for 40 years. We found acceptable compromises and closed the problem completely. Moreover, I can tell you our and Chinese businessmen are talking about the joint use of these islands in full.
— You mean those near Khabarovsk?
Even the Japanese premier seemed satisfied after the session. Now, Mongolia calls Japan its «third neighbor» more often. The rapid improvement of relations with Russia is paying off. In Vladivostok, Japan had talks with China, and also there's the Renaissance in relations with Russia itself. There's a future to look forward to.
Saturday Vesti, Vladivostok