Russia-ASEAN summit focuses on partnership and nuclear security

Russia wants to increase cooperation in the Asia-Pacific region, President Dmitry Medvedev told leaders at the Russia-ASEAN summit in Vietnam.

“For five years since the first Russia-ASEAN summit we have created solid legal foundation and efficient cooperation tools … a joint financial fund for dialogue and partnership is a great support here. And we intend to strengthen our contribution to it,” the Russian president added.

During the meeting, Medvedev and Southeast Asian leaders adopted a joint statement focusing on the common approach to security issues, economic development of the Asia-Pacific region and the overall strengthening of ties. It also touches upon cooperation in the field of nuclear security.

“Russia and the ASEAN members assume that modern international security challenges should be dealt with based on the Non-Proliferation Treaty,” the statement says. “Creating a zone free from nuclear weapons in South East Asia will contribute to global nuclear disarmament.”

President Medvedev is in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi, for a two-day visit and is also expected to hold separate talks with the country’s leadership. He plans to sign dozens of new agreements with the host nation, including a deal to build Vietnam's first nuclear power plant.

Political analyst Ekaterina Koldunova said Vietnam’s stability is one of the main reasons why Russia chose to collaborate on the construction of its first nuclear power plant.

[Vietnam] is a reliable partner, with which Russia has a long history of productive interaction” Koldunova noted.

And on the sidelines of that summit, Moscow and Washington vowed to continue talks on the US missile defense shield program and new European security architecture. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. The two praised Thursday’s successful joint anti-drug operation in Afghanistan – the first between Russia and the US. They agreed to go on with the fight against drug trafficking.

Moscow and Hanoi: lasting friendship, reliable partnership

On its way to modernization, Vietnam is looking to its old allies to help spur its plans along. In this future partnership, Russia plays an important role.

“We are cooperating with many countries, but among them is one old friend and old reliable friend we trust greatly: Russia,” said Phan Xuan Dung, a member of the Vietnam National Assembly.

Russian cars are everywhere on the streets of Vietnam, while Vietnamese shrimps are a much-loved delicacy on Russian dinner tables.

Last year alone, the trade turnover between the two countries reached almost $2 billion, with both hoping to increase it to $10 billion.

“Russian money, big companies, are flowing to Vietnam, bringing millions of dollars of investment, which is a good sign of healthy relations,” said Vladimir Mazyrin from the Institute of African and Asian Studies. 

However, the biggest venture is still ahead. Russia is to build Vietnam's first atomic power plant.

It took several years for geologists and environmentalists to find the right area in Vietnam to build the country’s first nuclear plant. They chose the central Ninh Thuan province. Locals call it “the land of sand and sun.”

With no rain and few people living there, the area is almost ideal for the future project.

“The plans include eight power stations within the next two decades,” said Doung Kuang Thanh, from Vietnam Electricity. “We think the first unit will be launched by 2020. It will provide us with cheap and safe energy to meet up to 15 percent of the rising demand.”

Local people welcome the idea of their region, which is among the poorest in the country, becoming Vietnam's energy powerhouse.

Communities here have traditionally been dependent on fishing and rice growing, but now they sense a brighter future.

“It will boost infrastructure and give us opportunities,” said Ninh Thuan resident and fisherman Du Thanh Nguyen. “I think one day my children could be working at this plant, and for this they will work hard, get a good education and be smart. It is an honor for us.”

Du Thanh Nguyen admits his knowledge about Russia starts and ends with bears and vodka, but he is sure that the joint company, apart from profit, will help forge closer links between the two countries.

The Thang Long Bridge over the Red River, north of Hanoi, is Vietnam's longest. For years it has symbolized friendship between Vietnam and its strongest ally, the big communist brother, the Soviet Union.

Its Vietnamese name could be translated as “rising dragon,” and it seems the dragon is still flying high: 20 years on after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia is still among Vietnam’s closest partners.