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A European city with an Asian mentality and a profoundly Russian soul

Expert opinion
6 September 2018
«Это европейский город с азиатским менталитетом и широкой русской душой»
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Vladivostok is welcoming guests to the Eastern Economic Forum for the fourth time. What does the capital of Russia’s southeastern coast have to offer investors? Vladivostok’s Mayor Vitaly Verkeenko talks to us about the city’s history, its present-day role, and where it is headed.

Vladivostok must become a centre of international cooperation between Russia and the Asia-Pacific region

— Vitaly, you have been Mayor of Vladivostok since 2017, and you identified international cooperation as a priority for the city from the very start. Would it be silly to ask why?

— Well, Vladivostok is home to seven consulates general and 16 honorary consulates, including some belonging to European states. No other Russian city aside from the capital can claim to enjoy so much foreign attention. It’s no wonder that Vladivostok is increasingly being viewed as Russia’s Pacific capital. This started out as a thought, but has since consciously been made a reality. «You could rule the East from here» were the famous words of Governor General of East Siberia Nikolay Muravyov-Amursky which gave the capital of Primorsky Territory its name (Vladivostok, or ‘Ruler of the East’).

Vladivostok historically developed as a multinational and multifaith city at a meeting point between cultures. It’s a European city with an Asian mentality and a profoundly Russian soul. Visitors will find a lot of interesting links with their own countries. At the beginning of the twentieth century, for example, there was a large Japanese population here, which tended to meet and socialize at the Urajio Honganji Temple. The site of the temple now features a sakura garden and a memorial symbolizing friendship between our two peoples.

Vladivostok also has a Chinese quarter — the famous Millionka district. In this labyrinth of streets you can still find the well-preserved Northern Chinese Theatre. We are planning to restore the historical buildings of Millionka and open museum exhibitions there, in order to make this quarter the nucleus of a tourism cluster in the historic centre of Vladivostok and a magnet for Chinese tourists.

It is entirely logical that Vladivostok should be the venue for Russia’s secondlargest forum held at presidential level. The city plays an extremely important role in the country’s new eastward trajectory of development. The AsiaPacific region of today contains the world’s leading economies, and it is important for Vladivostok not only to make itself part of the associated integration processes, but also to occupy its rightful place within them.

We value our old friends and welcome new ones

— What is being done to develop economic relations with Asian partners?

— The city has been g ranted some quite significant preferential arrangements, and it is important to make proper use of these. Last year, for example, we celebrated the 120th anniversary of the establishment of consular relations between Vladivostok and China. Historically, however, the city and surrounding Primorsky Territory have generally cooperated closely primarily with the bordering northeastern provinces of China. In April, a delegation from Vladivostok visited central China for the first time when Bank of China invited it to take part in the China Henan International Investment and Trade Fair with a focus on cross-border trade and investment.

Naturally, many people there had heard of Vladivostok, but few were able to point to it on a map. I hope that following the visit to the Eastern Economic Forum of our esteemed guest, leader of the People’s Republic of China Xi Jinping, our city will become the centre of attention for Chinese big business. With 2018 having been declared the Year of Interregional Cooperation, it is our task to advance cross-border trade formats.

Vladivostok also occupies a special place in Russian—Japanese relations. Cooperation between us was given a boost following the Second Eastern Economic Forum, when Prime Minister of Japan Shinzō Abe proposed to help Vladimir Putin make Vladivostok a more comfortable environment for doing business. The Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO) is examining the possibility of opening its third Russian representation here. Japanese business is also interested in pursuing large-scale projects. Convenient logistics, direct air links, and incentives for residents of Vladivostok Free Port and regional investment projects are enabling these to be implemented quickly and effectively.

We also have plans to step up cooperation with South Korea. We have reached an agreement with Mayor of Seoul Park Won-soon in particular, who himself proposed that we sign a joint declaration of friendship and cooperation between our two peoples. Vladivostok is welcoming major South Korean investors such as Lotte, a brand under which one of our best hotel complexes is now operating.

We value our old friends and welcome new ones who are ready to assist in the implementation of investment projects in Vladivostok of any kind. This city is a ‘deep blue ocean’ which offers extensive opportunities for growing business in any economic sector.

In 2015 there were only a few residents of Vladivostok Free Port, and now there are around 500

— The First Eastern Economic Forum took place on Russky Island in September 2015. I expect Vladivostok has changed over the last four years.

— You could say that the city has taken a big breath, and become more lively and dynamic. The Eastern Economic Forum attracted attention from all over the world to the new preferential arrangements in place in Vladivostok, and investors appreciated the value of its new business-friendly regime. We are now seeing the opening of new manufacturing plants and the development of small and medium-sized businesses. While there were only a few residents of Vladivostok Free Port in 2015, today there are already around 500.

Vladivostok is increasingly becoming a platform for major Russia-wide and international events. It was here that the International Far Eastern Maritime Show took place this year, with the participation of delegations and companies from Russia and 14 other countries.

Last year, Vladivostok was visited by 3.5 million of our fellow Russians. The inflow of international tourists has grown by 25% over the last four years, from 465,000 in 2015 to 620,000 in 2017, and the first half of 2018 has seen further growth of 19%. I consider tourism to be one of our development priorities, helping to form a positive image of Vladivostok within Russia and throughout the world. I see the development of this economic sector not in terms of ‘a city for tourists’, but rather as ‘tourism for a city’. I am also convinced that all investments begin with tourism. Investors start by coming here as guests, and assess the levels of hospitality, comfort, and security on offer before deciding whether or not to invest in any projects. That’s why it’s our task to make Vladivostok even more beautiful and hospitable.

Text: Julia SHATINA

Source: EEF 2018 Official Magazine

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