Russia's Vladimir Putin with Japan's PM Shinzo Abe in May 2016

Leaders of Russia, South Korea and Japan will have a timely, if unexpected, opportunity to discuss the North Korean nuclear crisis at an economic forum in Vladivostok on September 6-7.

The Eastern Economic Forum, the third to be held, was born out of attempts to attract investments to Russia’s vast, but sparsely populated Far East region. Around 3,500 officials and businesspeople from 57 countries will attend to discuss trade and business opportunities.

However, the focus this year will be on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program after the isolated state, which also shares a land border with Russia and China, detonated an underground nuclear device at the weekend that was believed to be a hydrogen bomb.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, South Korean President Moon Jae-in, and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe will meet for talks on North Korea at the forum, according to the agenda.

On September 7, Putin also intends to “speak out about the crisis on the Korean peninsula,” presidential aide Yury Ushakov told Russian journalists ahead of the event.

Putin and Moon spoke by phone on Monday and condemned North Korea over its latest nuclear test, the Kremlin said in a statement. Putin told Moon that the only way to resolve the crisis was through diplomacy and talks, according to the statement.

Russia regarded Pyongyang’s latest test as a serious threat to peace and security in the region, the Kremlin said.

Russia regarded Pyongyang’s latest test as a serious threat to peace and security in the region, the Kremlin said.

Moon and Abe have also discussed developments in North Korea with US President Donald Trump this week.

North Korea has faced UN sanctions since 2006 for its ballistic missile and nuclear tests, with the detonation at the weekend, generating strong warnings from the US that North Korea seems intent on war.

Read: US says North Korea begging for war as UN mulls more sanctions

Moon and Abe have both called for even stronger sanctions against Pyongyang, while the US has threatened to end trade with any countries aiding North Korea.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in attends a news conference in Berlin. Reuters/Michele Tantussi

The US will circulate a new Security Council resolution on North Korea this week and wants a vote on it next Monday.

“Sanctions alone will not help solve the issue,” Russia’s UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia said at a UN meeting this week, a position argued by China which says diplomacy is needed.

The official Chinese delegation to the Vladivostok forum will be headed by Vice Premier of the State Council of the People’s Republic of China, Wang Yang. India will be represented by Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj.

Business talks

While North Korea takes center stage, thousands of delegates will be discussing business and investment.

“This year we hope to sign accords amounting to 2 trillion rubles. At least that’s what experts believe,” Yury Trutnev, the plenipotentiary of the Russian President in the Far Eastern Federal District, said in an interview with state newspaper Rossiyskaya Gazeta.

More than 30 projects in Russia’s Far East are being opened to foreign investors, according to a briefing document shown to Asia Times.

More than 30 projects in Russia’s Far East are being opened to foreign investors, according to a briefing document shown to Asia Times.

The most interesting are related to agricultural products and food processing, said Artyom Lukin, associate professor of international relations at the Far Eastern Federal University.

“These include meat, beer, mixed feed, and the cultivation of ginseng as China, Japan and South Korea show growing interest in Russian agricultural products, which have a reputation for being ecologically clean and at good prices,” Lukin said in an interview.

China will become the main consumer of products from the Russian Far East, he said.

“The multibillion-dollar Chinese middle class wants to eat good-quality, ecologically clean food. They’d even prefer for it to be imported, since the Chinese do not really trust their own food products anymore,” Lukin said.

Consumers choose vegetables at a supermarket in Shanghai. Photo: Reuters/Aly Song

“And demand will grow because after Chinese consumers have tried good-quality products, they are unlikely to turn their back on them.”

Other projects related to fish processing, construction of roads, and communal infrastructure are of less interest to overseas investors, he said, adding that China, Japan and South Korea are interested in buying Russian fish catches but will process it at existing facilities.

Russians need to invest independently in such projects, which is also true for road construction and communal infrastructure as they have very long repayment periods and foreign investors are interested in export-orientated projects, Lukin said.

The visitors

A Japanese delegation will meet with Russian counterparts on joint economic development of the Kuril Islands.

The islands have been the subject of a sovereignty dispute between the two countries since the end of World War II.

Read: Russia, Japan try business as stepping stone in Kuril dispute

Japan will be represented by about 70 Japanese companies, including trading houses Marubeni Corp. and Mitsui & Co., and plant engineer JGC Corporation, Iida Group Holdings, and Shinwa Holdings.

China Development Bank Corp., China Communications Construction Co., Silk Road Fund, China Chengtong Holdings Group, PowerChina International Group are sending delegates, according to the forum agenda.

The Korean delegation will include about 300 officials, among them the president of the Busan Port Authority company, Woo Ye-jong.

While US-Russia relations are at a low ebb, the United States will also be sending more than 40 delegates. They include executives from companies such as ExxonMobil Russia, IBM East Europe, Abbott Laboratories, Boston Consulting Group, GE Rus, McKinsey & Co., and S&P Global Platts.

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