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September 2014

There is no Russian pivot to Asia: Interview with former US Under


Secretary Evans Rivere & Chinese Ambassador Du Qiwen
GCSP: What is your view of the crisis in Ukraine and its implications for Asia?
DU QIWEN To us, it is a very complicated situation and it is unfortunate that we find this
kind of situation in the post-Cold War setting in Europe. It is going to take a lot of work
but we have no other choice, the stakes are too high. I hope that people will be able to
look back and learn lessons on how to best handle situations like this in the future.
GCSP: One of the key issues in the crisis has been the questioning of the security
order that was set at the end of the Cold War. Does the issue of changing
borders resonate with you in Asia?
DU QIWEN We have always been of the position of safeguarding sovereignty and
territorial integrity and we are not very happy to see that sovereign statehood has
changed as a result of a referendum. We made that point clear in the United Nations and
in discussions with our partners. At the same time, we also know that this issue goes
much further back into history and that things could have been done in a different
manner so that we would not find ourselves in todays situation.
GCSP: Do you have a particular view on whether Ukraine should lean towards
Russia or NATO and the West?
DU QIWEN We do not have a particular position; it is for the Ukrainians themselves to
decide. What we would like to see first is that the situation calms down and at the end of
the day there is a solution that is acceptable to all parties concerned. On our part, we
want to have good relations with the Ukrainian government; we currently have ongoing
discussions with them and both sides are working hard to further develop bilateral
relations.
GCSP: What do you think the status of Ukraine should be?
EVANS RIVERE The message of this ongoing confrontation is that we need to have the
clearest possible understanding about the inviolability of borders, the sovereignty of
states and the territorial integrity of these states. All of these things have been brought
into question as a result of this crisis.
The other big issue is the potential downside implications for the future in terms of USRussia relations, European-Russian relations, and the fact that there are so many areas of
concern in which Russias cooperation is important. We are working together on a
number of issues such as North Korea, Iran, counter-terrorism, Syria, etc.
In terms of the ultimate orientation of Ukraine, that is for the Ukrainian government and
people to determine, it is not something we, Western Europe or Russia should decide.
The will, aspirations and desires of the people of Ukraine should be respected by all
parties.

Geneva Centre for Security Policy


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GCSP: Do you think that what seems to be a Russian pivot towards Asia is
sustainable?
DU QIWEN I do not agree with the term pivot to Asia; Russia has always attached great
importance to its relations with Europe and the US. It also of course is an important
player that stretches across two continents and develops relations with both Europe and
Asia. Because of the Ukrainian crisis and the difficulties they have had with Europe and
the US over this issue, the progress that Russia has made with Asian countries may look
even more impressive. However, nothing spectacular is taking place and nothing major
has been achieved in Russias foreign strategy.
The Russian flag has the double-headed eagle with one head looking west and one to
the east; some experts have said that the eyes looking west have always been larger.
Russians have always cared about carrying the identity of a European country, at least
culturally.
Negotiations between Russia and China have been going on for decades. At the same
time, had there not been the difficulties associated with the Ukrainian crisis, Russia would
have been happy to have more progress made in their economic and trade investments
with western countries as well.
EVANS RIVERE Russia has been, and will continue to be both an Asia and a European
power as it has interests and strategic stakes in both spheres. With the unfolding of the
crisis in Ukraine, Russia is probably sending signals that they want to keep their options
open in terms of how they will develop as a geostrategic player in the future.
What is happening is not a major turning point or shift in Russian geostrategic thinking
away from Europe and towards Asia. China and Russia have a long-standing relationship
and ties in various arenas including energy and economic cooperation.
GCSP: How would you assess US-China relations?
DU QIWEN Relations are much more positive than it appears in some press coverage,
especially in the West. We have a number of interests that will take this relationship
down the road of development. There is not much talk about the cooperation and
progress that exists between the two countries.
With the US being the only superpower, China being the biggest developing country, and
the two sharing the region of the Pacific Ocean, it is not a surprise that there are some
differences and difficulties. This is the reason that we should work in a sincere manner
and this attitude is shared by both of the governments.
I think that the differences and difficulties have been over-emphasised but mostly in the
American media; the Chinese media is ok.
EVANS RIVERE I would be a bit more guarded in my optimism. We are in a difficult
period in the relations; fundamentally, the areas of cooperation are important and we
have done a lot of good work together but there are issues of transparency and trust
right now. I have a different view of the media coverage: the Chinese news outlets
sometimes demonise the US and its geostrategic intentions in the region, which you do
see in the American media as well. The bottom line for the US is that we continue to
desire a more positive, close, cooperative, and transparent relationship between the
countries and we are working towards that end.

We are in a difficult period because we have a different perspective, for instance on some
of the maritime and territorial issues. However, none of these should result in a
breakdown in cooperation and partnership in many other areas and we need to figure
out a way to move beyond this difficult patch. The APEC meeting and Obamas visit to
Beijing offer a good opportunity for the two leaders to once again re-establish that
personal bond and reinvigorate the intense level of bilateral harmony that we have
occasionally seen in the past. We have to develop this strong partnership and expand the
range of cooperative issues among us, not only for the interest of the two countries but
also for the region.
GCSP: What should be the first issue on the APEC agenda?
EVANS RIVERE The number one thing should be the frankest exchange not only about
what we are doing right together but also about what we are not doing right together. I
think the two leaders are capable of doing that. Beyond that, I think they should expand
the foundation of bilateral cooperation.
DU QIWEN It is a way for both sides to work on the healthy development of our bilateral
relations. Being two of the largest countries in the world, we have an obligation and a
responsibility.