VLADIVOSTOK, RUSSIA — Russia’s government has traveled seven times zones east of Moscow to court Asian investors at the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit.
Speaking to the regional gathering Friday, Russian President Vladmir Putin warmly praised Chinese President Hu Jintao as “a great leader and a personal friend.” Putin is to have two meetings this weekend with the Chinese leader, who gives the first address on Saturday morning.
RT, Russia’s state-run English-language channel, has been airing an interview with President Putin, during which he reviews centuries of relations between the two neighbors. “Presently, Russian-Chinese relations are at an unprecedented high level, and we have a lot of mutual trust in politics and economy,” he concludes.
The Russian leader will also have bilateral meetings with 15 visiting Pacific basin leaders.
He is to have a short meeting at a reception with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who is representing the United States. President Barack Obama is not attending the meeting because the American presidential race is now in its final 2-month stretch.
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A critical partner
Putin is seeking to position Russia as a vital partner for Asia.
Noting Asia’s growing need for food, Putin said Russia plans to double its grain exports within 15 years. Russia now farms less land than during the Soviet era, he said, and Moscow is open to foreign investment in farming.
He offered Russia’s century old Trans-Siberian railroad as a land bridge between Asia and Europe, explaining that the railroad, which has its eastern terminus here in Vladivostok, is breaking Soviet-era records this year for hauling cargo.
Last month, Russian Railways chief Vladimir Yakunin asked the president Putin to spend $10 billion over the next three years to upgrade the country's eastern railroads.
Deals in the works
APEC meetings are sometimes seen as more about talking than action, but deals are springing up.
A Chinese company has signed a $600-million deal to buy 52 Russian transport helicopters and another company is negotiating a deal to buy 20 Russian seaplanes.
On Friday, a Chinese company signed a $200-million deal with the Russian Investment Fund for a Siberian logging and wood-processing venture.
Salavat Rezbaev, chairman of New Age Capital Partners, a group that brings Chinese investment into the Russian Far East, says he sees a new attitude in Russia about investment from China.
“Seven to 10 years ago, it would have been unimaginable to offer a serious level of Chinese investment in certain areas, in certain sectors,” he said. “Now we are not only witnessing it, we are doing it. We're getting support from the regulators, from the government.”
Japan also is investing in Russia’s Far East.
On Thursday in Vladivostok, Putin signed the door of a car that rolled off a new assembly plant built by Mazda, the Japanese carmaker, and Sollers, a Russian carmaker. Under this $350-million investment, the plant is to make up to 50,000 vehicles a year.
On Saturday, Japanese and Russian officials are expected to announce deals for a Siberian logging complex and a $13 billion liquefied natural gas factory and port to be built near Vladivostok.
After last year’s Fukushima disaster, Japan has closed most of its nuclear power plants and has begun looking to Russia for energy. After building a Siberian oil pipeline with a spur to China, Russia now is completing the line to a Russian port on the Sea of Japan — a two day sail from the island nation.
With close ties to China and billions of dollars coming from Japan, Russia is embarking on a new relationship with its Asian neighbors.