Question: It is five years since the mechanism of the Shanghai Five was created. How do you assess the results achieved by this organisation over these years? What are the areas in which you think forum participants should further coordinate their efforts and how?
Vladimir Putin: It is indeed five years since the Shanghai Five was established. It comprises, as you know, Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Kazakhstan. Two documents underpin it. One of them was signed in Shanghai in 1996, and one in Moscow in 1997. At an early stage all the countries I mentioned set themselves one objective. It was primarily military and political, was formulated clearly enough, and concerned the need to take additional confidence-building measures along the border of the post-Soviet republics with the People’s Republic of China. The mechanism proved very effective.
The decisions taken helped to considerably strengthen confidence-building measures between the countries I named. We agreed to set up a border corridor between army units of the respective countries and pulled them back a distance of about 300 kilometres. All that and also measures, which though not apparent to the eye, are essential, have created a very favourable climate in relations between the members of the Shanghai Five. And this situation is creating, or I would say, has already created a serious basis for expanding our cooperation in other areas.
In replying to the second part of your question, I would like to say that here, too, not only military confidence-building measures but also other aspects of the situation are coming to the fore today. With Russia having left Central Asia following the break-up of the Soviet Union, a certain power vacuum formed there (I do not think I am saying anything new, but I want to draw your and your viewers’ attention to the fact). And all sorts of religious extremists and terrorist organisations began to fill this vacuum.
The region is still largely trouble-ridden and has a high conflict potential. Joint measures allow us to control the situation. This concerns efforts to combat such phenomena as religious extremism, terrorism, organised crime, drug peddling, the illicit trafficking of narcotics and arms, and other evils of the same kind.
Having established a very favourable basis for expanding cooperation, we cannot, nor wish to, limit ourselves to that step. At present, our agenda is increasingly concerned with the deepening of joint efforts in the humanitarian sphere, in education, culture, science and, of course, economic cooperation.
Question: What is the role of the Shanghai Five in promoting regional economic development?
Vladimir Putin: I already explained that at the end of my reply to the first question. After creating a necessary and very favourable basis for the development of relations in every sphere, including that of economic cooperation, we would be wrong not to exploit that basis.
Due to these circumstances the region’s other countries are also showing interest in cooperation with the Shanghai Five. Uzbekistan is expected to join our organisation as a full member. There is a marked interest in our organisation among other countries, too.
We think that in order to develop economic cooperation, we must invigorate the work of our Governments. This is why this autumn our heads of Government are planning a meeting of the organisation currently known as the Shanghai Five. There is an idea to rename it now that its objectives are becoming more multi-faceted and we are reaching out for other levels and dimensions of cooperation.
Question: What do you think of Sino-Russian relations and their priorities?
Vladimir Putin: I think very highly of the level of relations existing between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China. Chinese President Jiang Zemin is playing a great, I would say, a substantial role in this. He personally pays a lot of attention to contacts between Russia and China. It is enough to say that we will have six personal meetings this and last year. This year’s key event in Russian-Chinese relations will be an official visit by the Chinese President to the Russian Federation. Both Russian and Chinese colleagues are already preparing for it, and we are confident that the visit will give a new and very strong boost to all aspects of our bilateral relations.
Of course, we also pay considerable attention to the coordination of our efforts towards global security, towards a modern and democratic world order, a multi-polar world. Russia shares many mutual interests with China, we consistently coordinate our efforts in the international stage, and this constitutes a very marked contribution by China and Russia to world peace and security. This is the first and very substantive aspect of our cooperation.
The second and no less important aspect is cooperation between Russia and China in the economic sphere. We have here a lot of untapped potential and areas that can be developed for mutual interest. I am referring above all to energy cooperation and cooperation in high technologies and space exploration. Lastly, we are neighbours, centuries-old neighbours, and share many points of mutual interest for people engaged in culture, education and science. This is a separate element of our cooperation and it will be the subject of special consideration during the Chinese President’s visit to the Russian Federation.
Question: The Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation, which President Jiang Zemin and you are going to sign during the Chinese President’s visit to Moscow, has already been dubbed the “treaty of the century”. What provisions of this document do you think qualify it as such?
Vladimir Putin: It is 20 years since a similar treaty expired between the former Soviet Union and China. We think this is an important document, which can regulate relations between the People’s Republic of China and Russia over a long perspective.
While you are saying that it is the “treaty of the century”, we are putting the following interpretation on it. It is not a treaty of the past century, it is a treaty of the present and future centuries, it is a treaty looking into the future and addressed to future generations. It contains a series of provisions that lay down foundations for relations between the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation as future generations will practise them. This is the point.
We in Russia are referring to the draft of this treaty, which I am sure will be signed, as a basic one, since it defines the principles of relations between China and Russia as between friendly nations in the main spheres of our cooperation: border questions, strategic cooperation on global security, cooperation in the humanitarian areas, and military and economic cooperation. All these are fundamental to the life of a nation. And, of course, they play a special role in and have a special meaning for relations between such major neighbouring powers as Russia and China. This is why we have every right to describe it as basic, as we do here in Russia.