Question: Mr President, the relations of strategic partnership and interaction between Russia and China are based on mutual trust. Now, in the new international situation, do you believe we can talk about a reappraisal of the character of these relations?
Vladimir Putin: I think the current situation in the world is what has prompted the leaders of China and the leaders of Russia to move to deepen bilateral contacts and elevate them to the level of strategic partnership.
This year sees the first anniversary since the signing of the Treaty between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, which contains the principle of strategic partnership. The initiative for signing the Treaty came from the Chairman of the People’s Republic of China and our good friend Jiang Zemin. I am absolutely sure that in the current situation we should seek to deepen and expand our interaction in every area. We should think about and work on how to invest strategic partnership with real content because the interaction between Russia and China on the bilateral basis and at international organisations is an important factor for peace and international security.
Question: Just recently you, Mr President, had very intensive contacts with the leaders of the European Union countries and with the US President. In this connection don’t you believe that in the new conditions when Russia has been pursuing a more active policy in this area, the Russian foreign policy is undergoing radical changes?
Vladimir Putin: Indeed, we are pursuing a very active foreign policy in relations to both Europe and America. And I should note – and everybody knows it well – that the main economic, scientific-technical and industrial potential of Russia is concentrated in its European part, some of it in Siberia, but it is still closer to Europe. Europe is our biggest trade and economic partner. So it is natural that we pay attention to this aspect of our activities.
The United States is no less interesting because it is the biggest trade and economic partner as a country.
I should note that China’s trade and economic links with the United States are several times greater than Russia’s. In that sense we can say that our relations with the American partners have not yet been duly evaluated and have not received the due share of attention although everybody is aware that it is the key player in the world economy and politics.
But that does not mean that we underestimate the level and the importance of the People’s Republic of China in the world and in the relations with Russia. Indeed, we think that the relations with our great Eastern neighbour, the People’s Republic of China, are an important priority for us. That is why we have lent a special character to our relations with the People’s Republic of China in concluding the Treaty last year and conferring the status of strategic partnership on our relations.
We have always pursued a balanced foreign policy if only because of our geopolitical situation (part of Russia’s territory is in the East and part is in Europe). In that sense, Russia is pursuing a traditional foreign policy. We intend to continue to develop our relations both with the East and the West. And in that sense the relations with the PRC are a priority.
Trade between Russia and China today has reached approximately a 10 billion dollar mark, and China’s trade with America, excluding Hong-Kong, stands at about 80 billion. I have no exact figures handy, but I am sure I get the order of figures right. As our interaction grows (a goal to which we are all committed) I think it goes without saying that our interaction in this important area of our cooperation in trade and economics will increase.
Question: Mr President, Chairman of the PRC Jiang Zemin is to visit Russia shortly to attend the SCO Summit. As the host, how do you assess the visit and what do you expect from it?
Vladimir Putin: We are very grateful to the Chairman of the PRC for accepting our invitation and we look forward to working in two areas.
First, we look forward to a major international event, as we will in effect be signing the Charter of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. It is not a military bloc, but in our opinion the organisation has the potential to play a very important role in creating a favourable environment for development in Asia. That is part of multilateral cooperation. But we also hope to use the visit by Chairman Jiang Zemin for consultations on bilateral relations.
Our bilateral interaction has many different aspects. Above all of course are economics, as I have said. There is also cooperation in the military sphere, in the military-technical sphere, in the development of the infrastructure of transport, communications and cultural exchanges. And finally, we are to discuss our interaction at international organisations especially over acute problems such as the fight against terrorism and the fight against extremism. In general, we are also planning to discuss the problems around Afghanistan and the problems currently arising between India and Pakistan and our interaction in the framework of the United Nations.
Apart from everything else we have high regard for the Chairman of the PRC. We believe that he is a great friend of Russia, he speaks Russian and sings Russian songs. We will simply be glad to see him. Last year my children went to China and the wife of the PRC Chairman entertained them at her home. I am very glad to have a chance to meet him once again, this time in my native city of St Petersburg.
Question: Thank you, Mr President. You are an old friend of the Chairman of the PRC. I hope it will be an enjoyable meeting.
Mr President, after the US has declared certain countries to be part of the “axis of evil” and introduced this concept in international politics, we admired the way you introduced a different concept, “the arc of stability” during the course of an international meeting. Could you elaborate the meaning of that term?
Vladimir Putin: I think the “arc of stability” may include the leading countries of the world, including the People’s Republic of China, Russia, the countries of Western Europe and the United States.
You know that several years ago we established a special relationship with the NATO bloc and just recently in Rome we signed a declaration that deepens the relations between Russia and the North Atlantic alliance.
We are ready to take an active part alongside united Europe in building the system of European security and to take as big a part in the European security policy as possible.
At the same time, as I have said, we attach great significance to our interaction with the People’s Republic of China. That is why we are working so actively together with China to strengthen the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.
The great weight, significance and role of the People’s Republic of China, not only in Asia, but in the world, I am convinced, can play a very tangible role in creating a system under which countries in the West and in the East will function in the framework of regional organisations united by one idea, the creation of a multi-polar world and their responsibility for the destinies of mankind.
That could be the meaning of an “arc of stability” from China via Russia to the Atlantic.
Question: In your annual Address to the Federal Assembly you said it was necessary to step up the pace of reform. Could you explain in more detail how you propose to go about that?
Vladimir Putin: Basically the set of instruments is well known and there exist traditional measures for solving this problem.
As you know, our rate of growth in the past two and a half years has been highly satisfactory, about 5–6%, even a little more. Of course we would like the figure to be still higher. Not only is our GDP growing, but the gold and currency reserves of the Central Bank have also been growing steadily. They are growing at the rate of 500–600 million dollars a week.
To ensure a still higher rate of growth – as we would like to do – it is necessary to carry out structural changes in the economy, cut down on bureaucracy in the economy and improve tax legislation. We believe that in a market economy it is necessary to eliminate unwarranted interference of the state in the market (I would like to stress the word “unwarranted,” and not just any kind of interference), to improve the justice system and the system of taking and implementing decisions.
However, there are some limitations which we cannot afford to ignore. These limitations are the social obligations of the state to the population. I think it would be a mistake if we permitted ourselves to pursue a policy that would undermine popular trust in the actions that we plan and carry out. So we try to proceed in a balanced way so that the measures we are planning for the economy lead to a real improvement of the people’s living standards. In fact that is the ultimate goal of all our reforms.
Question: You are a great friend of Jiang Zemin. We also think you are a great friend of the Chinese people. And as President of the Renmin Ribao holding I would like to ask you what message you would like to convey to the Chinese people?
Vladimir Putin: On behalf of all the citizens of Russia and from the bottom of my heart I wish our Chinese friends well-being, prosperity, peace and all the best to every Chinese home, to every Chinese family. And I very much hope that the modest efforts that we are exerting together with Chairman Jiang Zemin will make a difference to the lives of ordinary citizens in our countries and that it will be a positive difference.
I would like to thank you for your interest in Russia and to wish you all the best.