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Putin bets on Asia pivot to lift flagging Far East

putinKHASAN, Russia--With weeds choking the husks of many of its abandoned buildings, the tiny settlement of Khasan on the Russia-China-North Korea border is an object of curiosity for Chinese tourists and a symbol of neglect in Russia's Far East.
  "They bring them here and tell them, 'Do you want democracy? Here it is'," a Russian border officer, who asked not to be identified, told Reuters, referring to tourists who gaze at the Russian settlement from China. "And they point to the ruins of Khasan."
  But if Russian President Vladimir Putin gets his way and China opens its wallet, Khasan may not be poor for much longer. As Russia's economy stutters, buffeted by cheap oil and Western sanctions imposed over the Ukraine crisis, Putin is turning his attention to the country's Far East region where he hopes Asian money can generate some much-needed prosperity. On Friday, Putin wooed investors at the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok, an inaugural event he initiated, urging them to bring their cash to a region famed for its abundance of natural resources, forestry and fish stocks.
  "The possibilities here are enormous," the Russian leader told Chinese, South Korean and Japanese investors at the forum. Putin said he wanted the region, which amounts to more than a third of Russia's vast landmass, to become as profitable as other "leading business centres".
  Denied access to most Western financial markets because of the sanctions, Russia is looking particularly to China for investment opportunities. With slowing economic growth hitting its stock market, China has its own problems. But its proximity to Russia and its status as the world's second biggest economy makes it an attractive target for the Kremlin nonetheless.
  Putin visited Beijing on Thursday, securing a clutch of new business deals. But there was no breakthrough on major infrastructure projects, underscoring the limits to a relationship Moscow has cast as a counterweight to the West.
  Chinese direct investment into Russia totalled around $8.4 billion in 2014, up more than 10 percent from the previous year. But that was dwarfed by Chinese direct investment into Europe for the same year, which hit $18 billion, according to Rhodium, a China-focused research group.
  Putin told the forum on Friday he was confident the Asia-Pacific region would remain "the engine of the world economy" despite its current problems.
  The forum's attendance reflected Russia's change in emphasis. China's delegation was headed by Deputy Prime Minister Wang Yang. The only high-profile Western participant was Ben van Beurden, chief executive of Royal Dutch Shell.

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