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APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting wrapped up in Vietnam

November 11, 2017, Danang

The 25th APEC Economic Leaders’ Meeting ended in Danang.

On the second day of the Meeting, the APEC leaders reviewed the prospects for the global economy with Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde.

During the business breakfast, a discussion was held on establishing an Asia-Pacific free trade zone and a possible expansion of the APEC membership.

The final meeting focused on investments and new driving forces in international trade.

A joint declaration on the results of the forum was approved. The 2017 APEC economic leaders assessed the current regional and global economic situation, agreed on the ways to deepen cooperation, identified a number of tasks for next year.

In addition, the President of Russia had a conversation with US President Donald Trump on the sidelines of the Meeting. The two leaders approved a joint statement on Syria.

After the completion of the  Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, Vladimir Putin answered questions from Russian and foreign journalists.

* * *

Transcript of meeting with Russian and foreign journalists

Question: Good afternoon. The APEC summit is about to end. I would like to ask about your assessment of the work with the leaders, and possibly some organisational matters.In line with APEC traditions, a final document has been adopted. How did this work progress? There were probably some disagreements.

President of Russia Vladimir Putin: Regarding organisation, Vietnam has done everything possible for us to work comfortably and has undoubtedly created a very good atmosphere. This is number one.

Second. Concerning the summit’s theme – it is a highly relevant topic. You know – since most of the journalists here are Russian – we pay much attention to the digital economy in Russia in its different aspects and manifestations, and we consider problems from different angles.

I think it is vitally important that Vietnam raised exactly this topic because we should not only discuss some of the issues together but also resolve them together. It is impossible to do it alone.

For example, there is much talk about small and medium-sized businesses, and micro business, but we have to realise how it can be integrated in the overall system, the general operational chain of the modern economy, the information economy.

What needs to be done to achieve that? Russia had specific proposals in this respect, and I voiced them. It concerns the very definition of the conceptual apparatus – what is digital economy, what is digital trade and so forth. It seems very simple at first glance but in fact it requires careful analysis.

Or, take another example: we must understand the social consequences of new technologies. Some people say that it is dangerous and frightening since a lot of jobs will become redundant, and it is unclear what should be done about it. Others say there is no problem; we will just need retraining.

But it requires an expert assessment, it requires working with trade unions, international experts and the International Labour Organisation, the ILO. All of this was a subject for our discussion.

Other issues were also discussed, of course, including the fight against terrorism and the situation on global energy markets. We have just talked about it during business lunch.

We also spoke about the future of APEC. Mutual trade grew many-fold during the organisation’s lifetime. This basically shows the efficiency of the organisation.

We discussed the need to further liberalise markets and build up relations within a common and open market. Although some think that it is too early to talk about it because of the different levels of the member states’ economies.

Ms Lagarde’s report on the global economic situation was very interesting. We know that the global economy keeps growing and the mid-term forecast is good. But according to her there are risks related to the fact that the wage growth rate in the developed economies is slowing down, which cuts into the consumer purchasing power.

She also spoke about the need for a balanced budget, finance and credit policy, and the need for structural changes in the economy. These were the subjects of our discussion.

All that is extremely interesting, important and needed. And the fact that we have a general idea of the direction to move in is of great significance.

Question: One of the summit’s mysteries was whether you and Mr Trump would hold talks. As far as I understand, you have managed to talk “on the fly.” Could you please tell us what you talked about and why a full-fledged meeting, full-scale talks failed to materialise?

Vladimir Putin: Regarding a separate meeting. First, this had to do with Mr Trump’s schedule, my schedule and certain protocol formalities which our teams, unfortunately, failed to coordinate. But they will be disciplined for that.

However, nothing terrible has happened, we talked during today’s meeting, we communicated and, essentially, we have discussed everything we wanted to. What did we talk about?

We talked about the matters discussed at the APEC summit, we talked about how new opportunities opened up by the digital economy can be utilised in developing economic relations. And as you know, we also agreed a joint statement on fighting terrorism in Syria.

In this respect, I mean the former and the latter, we can state that the work on the APEC summit’s sidelines was useful and successful because it was no easy to arrive at the statement on Syria. Our experts were working on it ahead of the summit, and the final revision began yesterday.

Foreign Minister Lavrov and Secretary of State Tillerson dealt with issues that arose after the text was submitted by the experts, and the US President and I approved this document today. I think it is important because it stresses some absolutely fundamental matters.

First, it is the ongoing fight with terrorism. It is also vitally important for the United States in view of the latest tragic events there related to terrorist encroachments. It is important for us, for a nation that has been facing this problem for a long time, and for the whole international community. The fight against terror will go on, and it will go on through joint efforts.

As to Syria, I think it crucial that we have confirmed the country’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. We have agreed that after completing the fight against terror, liquidating the terrorist threat on that territory, we will move on along the road of political settlement under the auspices of the United Nations. You can see the details of the statement. I think it has already been published.

Question: Mr President, what do you think of the so-called anti-Russia investigations which seem to be gathering momentum in the United States? US administration officials are accused of colluding with Russia, and we hear that Trump’s election campaign members supposedly met with your niece. How do you assess the situation? This is question one.

And the second question, Mr President: when will it stop? We can’t stand it anymore!

Vladimir Putin: Let us put aside the second part of your question for now. We will discuss it in due time.

As to the first part, I have commented on that a number of times. I think that everything connected with the so-called “Russian dossier” in the United States is currently a manifestation of the ongoing internal political strife.

I am certainly aware of the particular things you mentioned, although it is only yesterday that I found out from Mr Peskov about some connections between my relatives and US administration officials. I do not know anything about that – absolutely nothing. I think this is just nonsense.

Regarding the trade minister, I think it concerns the US Secretary of Commerce. He used to run a business before, and he was a shareholder or an owner of a multinational shipping company, so he would sign contracts with shippers from around the world, maybe with Russian ones as well. But this is nothing more than business.

It has never had anything to do with politics. I don’t even know his name, I heard it for the first time a short while ago. So there is nothing to investigate here. But if there is a will, of course, one can dig around for a sensation. There are none, no sensations there.

As for Mr Manafort, they somehow also try to tie him to Russia. The only connection is that as head and, probably, owner of an American PR agency he signed contracts, as a businessman working in this field. He also worked in Ukraine, including with former President Yanukovych.

But I do not understand how this is related to Russia in any way. Nothing, there is absolutely nothing here, just empty talk and a will to grasp at any hunch to and use it against the current US President. But let me repeat, this has nothing to do with us, let them deal with it on their own.

Question: You regularly meet with Mr Xi Jinping but this meeting was special because it took place immediately following the [China’s] Communist Party’s congress. As far as I know, it was a long meeting, and you even had a one-on-one talk for some time. Can you tell us what topics you discussed, whether the North Korean issue was touched upon, how close are the two nations’ position on this issue, and also what can we expect since this is a very acute issue for the whole world?

Vladimir Putin: I have regular meetings with the Chinese President, and the volume of our relations is very large. It is our biggest economic partner with trade exceeding $60 billion, and that is after the slump.

We will definitely reach the goal we have set if we retain the current tempo, and I am confident that we will reach $100 billion in the coming years. We have many plans in energy and nuclear power, in hydrocarbons; I am not going to list all those projects to save time, since all that is well known.

We have good prospects in space exploration, including work on outer space, and aviation (a wide body aircraft). We have already set up a design organisation, and we have even got the name for the plane. We have good prospects in helicopter manufacturing: we are going to make a heavy helicopter. This means there are a lot of areas for work, so we always have a topic for our discussions.

Concerning foreign policy, our positions, as diplomats are known to say, are very close or coincide on many issues, and they certainly do on the key ones. One of such key issues today is the North Korean problem. Our views completely overlap here.

We believe that it is a problem, we do not recognise North Korea’s nuclear status, but at the same time we urge all the opposing, conflicting sides to scale down the confrontation and to find the strength to sit down at the negotiating table. There is no other solution to the issue.

Russia and China put forward a roadmap for solving this problem, which states every step to be made – first to stop the rhetoric, then to stop any signs of aggression from all the parties, and ultimately to sit down at the negotiating table.

But, as you have heard, there have been some encouraging signals lately, including from the US administration, Japan and South Korea regarding the overall understanding by everyone that there is no alternative to this way of solving the problem. We hope it will happen this way.

It is true that there was also a one-on-one meeting, and the Chinese President gave a detailed account of the Communist Party congress and the mid-term plans China sets before itself.

This is important for us, in reference to what I began with, because China is our biggest economic partner. It is very important for us to understand where and how this large economy will move, as it is set to become the world’s number one economy in the coming years.

It is inevitable with the annual growth rate of over six percent, and it was even bigger in the past. We must certainly understand how we need to adjust our work with China in terms of our plans for the EAEU development, and aligning those plans with China’s Silk Road plans and their strategy for developing relations with their neighbours.

Question: Mr President, talks on the sidelines of such summits are sometimes as essential as official meetings. Can you tell us about your contacts backstage?

And one more question on the issue. Donald Trump is famous for pulling his vis-à-vis towards himself as he shakes hands. However, they say such tricks are a no-go with a master of sports in Sambo. Did he try to do something like that when he shook hands with you?

Vladimir Putin: You know, I am not aware of his tricks, we do not know each other well. But the US President’s behaviour is absolutely polite and friendly, and we have a normal dialogue.

Unfortunately, there is too little time, we still have not managed to discuss the entire range of our relations, and there is a great deal to talk about – both in the security area and in the area of economic cooperation, which is practically suspended as of today.

We had a meagre 28 billion, and now we have 20 billion. This is nothing for such nations as the United States and Russia, it is almost zero. This is why we and our teams should definitely find an opportunity to sit down and discuss the whole scope of our relations. But let me reiterate, he is a courteous man and it is comfortable to talk and work with him.

Question: (Inaudible.)

Vladimir Putin: But as you are aware, there was a meeting with the Japanese Prime Minister, President of the Philippines, President of China and a separate meeting with the President of Vietnam. I had very detailed conversations with each of the leaders.

There are certain specifics in the relations with each of these nations, I mean the level of our economic relations, political interaction, work in the area of security and military technical cooperation.

There is a whole range of questions, so it is hard to narrate everything here. But it was very useful and I think – no, I am confident – that it will have an effect on our practical work with these partner countries.

Question: Good afternoon. I would like to go back to the Syria issue and ask about your assessment of what is happening in the Syrian Arab Republic today. Clearly, it is not a turning point which was referred to just a year ago. What is going on now and what are the prospects for that country?

Vladimir Putin: As of today, it is absolutely obvious that the military efforts to liquidate the terrorist hotbed in Syria are nearing completion. The latest developments in the southeast of the country testify to this – it was practically the last ISIS stronghold, a town on the Syria-Iraq border in the southeast, followed by the liberating of the eastern bank of the Euphrates.

The crucial thing now is to finish that work and to strengthen de-escalation zone agreements, to enhance the ceasefire regime and create conditions for launching political dialogue. Actually, this is what today’s Russian-US joint statement is directed at. I think it will be a significant factor in settling the Syria problem.

Question: The US Department of Justice is forcing our channel [Russia Today] to register as a foreign agent. Also, Twitter recently banned our advertising even though it has been paid for and is published legally. What do you think of this unprecedented pressure on the Russian media in the United States, and can we expect a response?

Vladimir Putin: As our people say, it would be funny if it wasn’t so sad. Because the people who are doing this in the US used to do a lot of chest thumping calling themselves the Number One Democrats in the world. And the freedom of the press has always been put on a pedestal as a beacon of democracy. Democracy does not exist without the freedom of speech.

The attack on the Russian media in the United States is an attack on the freedom of speech, there is no doubt about it. We are disappointed, as they say in such cases. But clearly it could not be any other way. And what is being discussed at the State Duma (I watched it yesterday) may look somewhat sharp, because the legislative authorities often come out with extreme assessments, harsh judgments and tough proposals. But we have to give some sort of a response, and it will be mirror response.

I would like to draw your attention to the fact that there is no and cannot be any evidence of our media’s meddling in the election campaign. The latest Congressional, I think, or Senate hearings have revealed that the advertising had a share of zero point zero zero, or one hundredth of a percentage point. The impact on the audience also amounts to the tenth or hundredth of a percentage point.

There can be no comparison: your advertising cost about 100,000, whereas other US media placed advertisements worth millions. There can be no comparison. However, even this appeared to be a danger and is treated as a sort of interference.

The media provide information, interpret it and offer their opinion. One can argue with them but not by shutting them down or putting up barriers making their professional activities impossible, but rather by offering one’s own opinion, relating one’s own information to the audience. Nevertheless, they opted for actually shutting them down. The response will be adequate and mirror.

Question: Mr President, good afternoon. The Wall Street Journal reported that the United States is going to offer Russia a plan on the deployment of US peacekeepers; they put their number at 20,000.

Vladimir Putin: Where?

Remark: In Donbass, Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin: I know nothing about it. You do not need to go on because…

Question: This is what they wanted to somehow convey to our leadership. Have you heard about it? And what would you think hypothetically of such a proposal if it came?

Vladimir Putin: I have already answered your question. I have heard nothing about it, I know nothing about it, so it is impossible to comment on it. It is just not possible. When detailed proposals are made…You see, this is how things are in real life. A suggestion is one thing whereas when a proposal is laid down on paper, things often look quite different.

And you will agree, commenting on something non-existent – what am I going to speak about if it does not exist? When those proposals come, we will see.

Question: Are you disappointed about not meeting with Mr Trump? What does it say about the current state of Russia-US relations?

Vladimir Putin: It says the relations between Russia and the United States are still in crisis. As you know, I speak often and at length about it, we are ready to turn this page over and move on, to look into the future, to solve problems which are of concern both for the people of the United States and the people of the Russian Federation, and to think about filling our economic relations with concrete significant content.

Look, at the last Economic Forum in St Petersburg, the US companies had the largest representation. US companies were in the majority at the Economic Forum in St Petersburg. Everyone wants to work in Russia.

Now, they did not let ExxonMobil work on the Arctic shelf. The company was simply deprived just of an interesting, promising opportunity that would have enhanced the economic power of the United States, created jobs in the United States, generated revenue, taxes, etc.

This is just one example, while taking into account restrictions in financing, for instance, there are many more examples. Your place will be taken by your competitors. It is inevitable in the modern world. But we want harmonious relations with the United States not just in the economy but also in ensuring security.

We have the Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty – START III. When the treaty was being concluded, I was not the President of Russia, and President Trump did not take part in drafting that treaty. But it exists. There are issues in it that need to be discussed.

Another problem is short- and intermediate-range missiles. We hear reprimands from some of our US partners that Russia allegedly violates that Treaty. But in this case, they should show how we do it.

Meanwhile, in Romania there are launch pads deployed that can be used not only for interceptor missiles but also for the Trident system, which are intermediate-range missiles deployed in the sea, and they can be easily brought ashore and used as surface-based intermediate-range missiles. In our view, this is a direct violation.

There are also some other issues that we can and should discuss, including the fight against terrorism. The fact that even under such conditions we manage to agree on anything (I mean the Syria statement) is already good, albeit too little.

Question: I would like to ask about yesterday’s meeting with Prime Minister Abe. You said the election victory in Japan “will let us implement all our plans.” What do “our plans” mean? Mr Abe’s plan, as we know, includes signing the peace treaty. Do you agree that this issue is part of your joint plan?

And one more thing. Negotiating the implementation of this plan will probably take several years. Does it mean you will run for president again?

Vladimir Putin: You have rightly said that we have many plans, and we have made them public a number of times. In the economy they are, primarily, Prime Minister Abe’s plans. As you are aware, he worded his proposals in a number of fields several months ago. Moreover, he has even appointed a special minister to deal with these issues. This is just one problem.

The second problem, or the second part of the problem, are the security issues in the whole region. We have just spoken about the North Korea problem here at the news conference. We have discussed it as well. We talked about both the first part and the second one.

Naturally, we spoke about the peace treaty, too. And this certainly is part of our joint plans. I mean to say that there are many challenges with regard to the peace treaty. It is no secret – we also have to look into Japan’s obligations to its partners in the sphere of defence and security, how it will affect the peace treaty negotiating process, which obligations Japan has, and what it can and what it cannot do independently.

It is quite natural that if there are some agreements, they should be complied with. We need to find out how it will tell on our relations with Japan, this is a lot of work. It may indeed take more than one year. However, there are some issues that can be resolved today.

For example, Prime Minister Abe raised the issue of Japanese citizens visiting the Southern Kurils to see the graves of their ancestors, and asked us to arrange it in a simplified way, visa-free. As you know, we are doing that.

He also asked us to allow those Japanese citizens to visit not only the places they had been to before but also the so-called restricted areas of those islands. We also agreed to that.

We have agreed for a group of Japanese businesspeople to come to the islands so as to discuss on site possible joint development issues. We also agreed to that, and such visits did take place. It means something can be done right away whereas other matters may be scheduled for a longer period.

However, this does not depend on who is in power – Abe, Putin or someone else – it does not matter. What matters is the commitment of our countries, our peoples to long-term settlement of all the problems so as to create favourable conditions for the development of our relations not in the short- or medium-term but rather in a long-term historical period.

Thank you very much for your attention.

November 11, 2017, Danang