Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, meets U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton on her arrival at the APEC summit in Vladivostok, Russia, Saturday, Sept. 8, 2012. (AP Photo/Mikhail Metzel, Pool)

Powerhouses ... Vladimir Putin with Hillary Clinton. Photo: AP

VLADIVOSTOK: In some translations the Russian port city ''Vladivostok'' is taken to mean ''power over the east'' and President Vladimir Putin has certainly used a summit of regional leaders and billions of dollars in investment to declare Russia a Pacific player.

While the linguists might quibble over confusion with the word ''vlast'' - meaning power - there is little doubt Russia wants to be taken seriously in the region.

The agenda for the Asia Pacific Economic Co-operation forum held in Vladivostok at the weekend was formally limited to trade, but the 21 nations, including China and the United States, also took the chance to thrash out wider strategic concerns.

Hillary Clinton, the US Secretary of State, urged leaders of Japan and South Korea to help cool tensions involving territorial disputes, a clear reference to flashpoints in the South China Sea and difficulties with North Korea.

''Much of the history of the 21st century is being written in Asia,'' Mrs Clinton said yesterday, a motif the US has adopted while seeking to extract itself from conflicts in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

In a swing through the region before landing in Vladivostok, Mrs Clinton pledged to shift more US Navy ships to the Pacific and laid down a challenge to China and other countries to work together on foreign aid for poorer nations.

The message about stability and peace ''is being heard,'' she said. But Beijing - which claims exclusive sovereignty over islands in the South China Sea - has bristled at the prospect of what is sees as American containment.

China's President, Hu Jintao, preparing to hand over power in the coming months, declared the region a ''locomotive of progress'' and on the eve of the summit flooded the Chinese economy with a $157 billion stimulus plan to calm nerves about a slowdown.

Yet it was Mr Putin as host who twirled the ringmaster's baton, seeking always to draw attention to Russia's ''intrinsic'' place in the Asia-Pacific.

Yesterday he pledged to again sit down with Japan to resolve a long-standing dispute over island territories - a sticky problem that dates back to the Second World War.

Mr Putin has invested at least 450 billion roubles ($14 billion) hosting APEC, building a new campus on Russky Island, once home to a Soviet naval base, for the summit.

The elaborate facility in a region historically taken for granted by Moscow will be turned into a university, an investment meant to underscore Russia's connection to Asia.

''Russia has much to offer,'' Mr Putin said, the unspoken implication being that Russia was a land route to European markets that avoids sea lanes where the US Navy is dominant.

But Alex Gabuev, the deputy editor of Russia's leading business magazine, Kommersant, doubts the money has been well spent.

He told the Herald rebuilding the trans-Siberian railway to ship coal would have made a better investment.

''We could probably be another Australia for the Chinese market,'' Mr Gabuev said.

The doubts over Russia's commitment to the Pacific will persist, especially as Mr Putin faces a more hostile constituency after engineering a return to the top job.

Mr Gabuev said the Russian psyche also had to change to engage with Asia, especially as a resource supplier.

''If you are blessed with natural resources there is nothing to be ashamed of,'' he said.

''It might seem to be naive to you, but there is a huge debate in Russia about whether we should sell resources to Asia or whether we should lead them with technology.''

Mr Gabuev said many in the Russian elite still invoked a Soviet-era mentality to ''look down at Asia''.

with agencies