Vladimir Putin spent most of a recent interview with Chinese state media praising the “exemplary collaboration” between Russia and China in recent years. He listed a wide range of areas, from financial services to the aircraft industry, where his country wants to partner with its “trusted friend.”
But Putin’s interview also highlighted a polarizing meeting that takes place in Shanghai this week. Putin promises that the talks will lead to “a new security and sustainable development architecture in Asia-Pacific”—a task that has become increasingly important as China aggressively moves into disputed territory in the South China Sea.
Known as the “Summit of the Conference on Interaction and Confidence Building Measures in Asia,” or CICA, the meeting is a once-every-four years gathering of Asian nations. Started by Kazakhstan president for life Nursultan Nazarbayev, the group’s members include some of the world’s most powerful non-Western non-democracies and dictatorships, as well as Israel and India:
Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Cambodia, China, Egypt, India, Iran, Iraq,Israel, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia, Pakistan, Palestine, Republic of Korea, Russia, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan,Vietnam.
Conspicuously missing from this group dedicated to the future of Asia is Japan, Asia’s second-largest economy and a necessary participant in any credible security architecture in the region, the Philippines, which is a US ally, and Indonesia, another country locked in a territorial dispute with China.
Founded in Almaty, Kazakhstan in 1999, the CICA pledges to create an “an environment of confidence” among its members states, which is merely, as its own mandate explains, a “stepping stone” for the ultimate goal, military alignment.
Since the group was started, its summits have a mixed track record on encouraging diplomacy. A 2002 meeting in Almaty put leaders from India and Pakistan in the same room as tensions flared between the two countries. A 2010 meeting in Istanbul, on the other hand, seemed calculated to test the US’s push for further sanctions of Iran, scheduled as it was a day before a UN Security Council meet on the issue.
This month’s meeting, on the 20th and 21st, will include Iranian president Hassan Rouhani and United Nations general secretary Ban Ki-Moon. The inclusion of Rouhani is already being interpreted as a tacit backing of the country, at least in Iran. “Iran’s participation in the summit will show the world that the Islamic Republic is not isolated,” one academic told Chinese state media. The non-Western world “is not the periphery, it is in fact the center,” he said.
Putin’s push for deeper relations with Asia supports this notion, although the absence of key regional players at this week’s meeting suggests that the talks won’t be nearly as decisive as advertized.