Question: In connection with your historic visit to Vietnam, we would like to ask you about the aims of your first trip to our country and your impressions and thoughts on the development of cooperation between Russia and Vietnam in recent years in the political, trade, economic, scientific, technical and cultural fields.
Vladimir Putin: I look forward to the visit with keen interest. I am sure it will yield results, will be substantive and mutually beneficial. The traditional friendly ties between our countries go more than half a century back. We believe that all-round development of relations with Vietnam is a Russian foreign policy priority in Asia.
Besides, it is the first official visit by a Russian head of state to Vietnam. What is particularly important is that it is taking place at a time when Russian-Vietnamese cooperation has attained a new level, the level of strategic partnership. We are interacting in all the key areas: political, economic, military, scientific, technical and cultural.
As a Vietnamese proverb goes, overcoming difficulties generates wisdom. The last decade and a half have been a serious test for our countries. But in spite of all the problems we have managed to preserve the positive things created in previous years and even to build on them, especially in the economic sphere.
The oil and gas sector is an eloquent example. Russia and Vietnam already have some successful experience in this area. The Russian-Vietnamese joint venture Vietsovpetro is the main producer of oil in Vietnam and one of the top five oil companies in the world. We are moving from extraction to joint refining and are building the first oil refinery in Vietnam.
In spite of the difficulties, mainly financial, we continue cooperation in such traditional areas as the power industry, ship repair, machine-building, construction, transport, fisheries, farming and the processing of farm produce. We are initiating cooperation in some new fields which would involve the creation of modern satellite communications and the use of cutting-edge technologies. Measures to increase trade are being planned because we are not happy with its present volume. Links between regions are expanding.
We have managed, through joint effort, to close the problem of Vietnamese debt to Russia. I think we should use this opportunity to further stimulate our cooperation.
Partnership in the field of culture, the arts, science, education, sport and tourism have a big potential for growth.
In the period between 1991 and 2000, about 30 inter-governmental agreements were signed. These are working documents. The signing of the 1994 Treaty on the Main Principles of Friendly Relations was of fundamental importance for both countries.
Regular political contacts form the basis of our close interaction. I have already discussed ways to reinvigorate Russian-Vietnamese cooperation with the Vietnamese Prime Minister Phan Van Khai and Deputy Prime Minister Nguyen Manh Cam. I am sure that my talks with President Chan Dyk Lyong and other Vietnamese leaders will be constructive and will yield results.
Mr Chan Dyk Lyong is well known in this country. His visit to Moscow in 1998 as President of Vietnam produced some important agreements. From then on our partnership has been acquiring a strategic character.
Question: What can Russia and Vietnam do to promote cooperation to match the potential of the two countries and further develop the traditional relations of friendship and cooperation in the 21st century?
Vladimir Putin: We have everything for fruitful cooperation: a rich historical tradition of relations, a high level of trust in our political contacts and similar positions on the main international issues. We attach special importance to regular contacts at the top and high levels to exchange opinions on key aspects of the international situation and inter-state relations. It is necessary to deepen the links between our legislatures and between the executive power bodies.
Of course, we should promote the cooperation of non-governmental organisations in the two countries, including the friendship societies.
In my opinion, key tasks include an all-out effort to build up trade and investment cooperation, especially in the fuel and energy field, and in other promising spheres I have already mentioned. Particular attention of course should be paid to small and medium companies which need government support.
A lot would depend on the effective work of the Russian-Vietnamese inter-governmental commission on trade-economic and scientific-technical cooperation. Its working groups deal with concrete issues of cooperation.
Further coordination of our efforts in international politics is undoubtedly important. That applies above all to activities at the UN and other international organisations, the issues of global and regional strategic stability. Joint work in the field of disarmament and arms control is important.
The key aspects of Russian-Vietnamese cooperation in the 21st century will be reflected in the political document we expect to sign after the forthcoming talks.
Question: Considering that Russia is a world power which straddles the European and Asian continents, how do you see its role and responsibility in the strengthening of peace, stability, cooperation and development in the Asia-Pacific region?
Vladimir Putin: Because of its truly unique geographic position Russia has interests both in the West and in the East. So we cannot afford to tilt either towards the Euro-Atlantic or the Asia-Pacific regions. We will steadfastly adhere to this line, which is sealed in the country’s new foreign policy concept.
The processes taking place in the Asia-Pacific region are closely connected with our priority task of creating a stable and secure situation on the eastern borders of Russia, creating conditions that would contribute to the social and economic development of the vast regions of Siberia and the Far East and help them penetrate the world markets.
Russia is one of the key players in the region. We believe that our role in the APR should be to seek to form a non-bloc community. Our goal is equal security for all based primarily on economic interdependence of the states in the region.
One mechanism of achieving that goal is increased involvement in the regional integration structures. Russia’s contribution to them is very tangible. After our country joined the APEC activities, that forum acquired a truly region-wide character. Undoubtedly, it will play a major part in the world economy in the 21st century.
Another important area of our work is expanding friendly relations and trade and economic cooperation with all the ATR countries, especially our closest neighbours and partners.
We are pleased with the dynamics of bilateral ties with the APR states. We are well on course to building an equal and trusting partnership between Russia and the PRC. This end will be furthered by the new political treaty between our countries currently being drafted. It is hard to overestimate the importance of the growing cooperation between Russia and India. Prospects are promising across the board: from politics and economics to the military-technical and social spheres. We continue developing our relations with Japan. We are committed to promoting Russian-Japanese trade and economic cooperation and to continued talks to conclude a peace treaty. We will expand cooperation with the DPRK, and strengthen relations with Mongolia. We have broad cooperation with the ASEAN “ten”, including on matters of regional security.
Russia does not shy away from tackling complex regional problems, especially those that directly affect our interests. The situation on the Korean Peninsula is a vivid example. Russia has become more deeply involved in the solution of the problems on the Peninsula, which increasingly are acquiring not only an inter-Korean but an international dimension. My visit to Hanoi was preceded by a visit to South Korea. I visited the DPRK last year. Russia welcomes the resumed inter-Korean dialogue, and will contribute to the reconciliation between the North and South.
Ensuring strategic stability is an important area of Russian policy in the APR. The United States is trying to justify its plans of creating a national missile defence by the alleged threat emanating from that region, among others. The plans to deploy a fairly exclusive theatre missile-defence system in North-East Asia are acquiring a tangible character. Russia believes that such plans can trigger an arms race in the world and in the APR in particular. Our position enjoys growing support in the world. Of late we have put forward some major initiatives in the field of nuclear weapons. Our initiatives are aimed at solving the security problem not for one country but for the whole world.
There is a good example of multi-lateral interaction in this sphere in the APR. And that is the Shanghai forum. The build-up of confidence measures and mutual scaling down of forces on the common border agreed by its members marks a real step towards stronger regional stability.
I would like to mention the important role of the regional ASEAN Forum (ARF), which this year is chaired by Vietnam. It is a unique mechanism for dialogue among the APR countries on a wide range of issues connected with the maintenance of peace and stability in the region. It discusses, for example, the potential of pro-active diplomacy. Russia is actively involved in this forum.
To sum up, I would like to note that we all have a lot to do before the Asia-Pacific region becomes genuinely prosperous and stable. Russia is confident that the region is firmly on course towards greater security and cooperation. We intend to contribute to this process in every way.
Question: Can you speak about Russia’s recent achievements?
Vladimir Putin: In the late 1980s Russia embarked on reforms aimed at democratising the country and building an effective market economy. By the way, similar developments started in your country at about the same time.
The direction of Russian reforms was absolutely correct, but unfortunately, the change in the social system and the structure of society has led to a dramatic weakening of state institutions. In its bid to get rid of excessive government interference, society went so far that the government dramatically reduced its presence even in such areas where its control is vital for society. For example, in the social sphere.
Ordinary citizens soon became aware of the minuses of this state of affairs. There were increasingly vocal demands to curb crime, control corruption, restore social benefits for the neediest groups of citizens. This is what engages us today. And it is in this area that we can report the greatest achievements recently. Of course, many problems still remain to be solved, but then social and economic issues cannot be solved overnight. As you say in your country, a slow elephant will reach its destination sooner than a wild stallion.
By the way, the current processes in Russia connected with the strengthening of the state structure are similar in many ways to the Vietnamese model of reforms. You have very interesting experience and we intend to draw on it.
In the political sphere we have managed to rally all the political forces in society around the idea of restoring a normal and viable state. I think that is the basis of success. The lack of unity was a hindrance throughout the 1990s.
Of course, there are still people who view what is happening in Russia not in terms of a choice between chaos and order, but in terms of the opposition between “democracy and authoritarianism”. And they criticise us for what they call authoritarian tendencies. I disagree, but I am fairly relaxed about such criticism. After all, free discussion and free exchange of opinions is a characteristic feature of a genuine democracy.
The relations between the national leadership and regional leaders are changing. We are restoring part of what we had abandoned and what we should not have abandoned. The federal Government has assumed responsibility for laying down strategic guidelines for the nation in the field of economy, foreign and domestic policies.
No state, least of all such a vast one as Russia, can develop dynamically if it stifles local initiative. To use a metaphor, it is like a dinosaur that will not bother to turn its head until its tail is cut off. So, there is no question of a return to the Soviet-style centralised management. We are talking about creating a common legal space in the country and creating an effective judiciary system. On the whole, it can be described as making the country governable again. The flow of investments to Russia depends on that.
The past year has produced some good results in terms of relations between the business community and government structures. We are creating a level playing field for all types of business, including small and medium companies. By the same token, we have put equal distance between the Government and all business tycoons. I believe that oligarchs must not influence political decision-making.
We are working on legal documents that would restrict the possibilities for government officials to interfere in the life of the business community by initiating all sorts of inspections or hamper business in any other ways. I hope that our partners in Vietnam who have trade and economic interests in Russia will soon feel it.
Let me repeat that the key factor required for the success of most of our plans is social support. The people agree with the main directions of our policy. They can even be said to be formulating the main goals towards which we are working.