Being Friends With Dragon: What is China Doing in Russian Far East?
925 views   /  13 Jul 2015
China and Russia dominate global media as a powerful union of two buddies that help each other and counterbalance the West. Media rightly praise the union for its efficiency and predict it a bright future. But there is an issue of the lands that Russia lends to China. Is everything okay there?
By a Reader of Russian Accent
I love Russia. And I like China; I respect and value its ancient culture, traditions, and ideology. I am especially glad that Russia and China are partners and even friends. The union gives them both an opportunity to pursue their own policies on the international arena. China, a fast growing world power, needs Russian economic and technological assistance, and Russia, not in the best relations with the West now, is indeed very lucky to have such a mighty ally.
Currently China is Russia’s number one partner in terms of economic cooperation and mutual political support. The record-breaking $400-billion gas delivery contract, building new gas pipelines, and China’s tacit backing of Russia’s international initiatives are just some examples.
But there is one issue that I can’t ignore while thinking about the Moscow-Beijing union. It is the Far Eastern policy. Recently the government of one of Russia’s East Siberian regions signed a protocol on lending 315,000 hectares of border area to Chinese agricultural companies for 49 years.
The area is larger than the territory of Luxemburg and is about the size of the Northern Cyprus. The price for renting such a vast area is surprisingly low: China will pay 250 rubles for a hectare per year, which is approximately $4,42.
China has alleged claims on parts of Russia’s Siberia. Soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia that was weak at the time handed more than 600 islands to China as a gift. Reportedly, Chinese textbooks describe Russia’s Far Eastern lands as “temporarily abandoned territories”. The word “temporarily” is disturbing, as it hints that Beijing may dream about taking the territories back . China even has a “shame museum” dedicated to treaties which deprived China of some territories, which Beijing considers regrettable.
In 1969 the Chinese attempted to invade the Soviet island of Damanskii on the Ussuri River, nearly plunging the two communist countries into war. Soviet troops repelled the attack, losing 58 people (China lost over 800). However, in 1991 Moscow granted control over the island to Beijing. Now there is an obelisk dedicated to the Chinese “heroes” who died in the conflict.
China has already rented land from Russia, as well as from other countries: Ukraine, Tajikistan, Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela, and African countries. Its rapidly developing economy needs resources and land for agriculture business.
Two problems should be mentioned here:
First, Chinese agriculture companies are infamous for using even the most harmful work methods in the foreign areas they rent: they poison the soil with powerful, destructive chemicals and cut trees so extensively that the land turns into a lifeless desert when the Chinese companies leave. They also do not prevent poaching on rare animals.
Second, there are quite many illegal Chinese migrants in Russia. No one has named an official figure but estimates vary from hundreds of thousands to millions. Mind the Russian underpopulation in the Far East in contrast to China’s overpopulation.
Now imagine that the Chinese companies that rented the area according to the recent contract finalize the agreement and start business there. They will build infrastructure, send a lot of Chinese workers to the region. They will settle down there and get married. What will be their children’s citizenship? Russian, Chinese or dual? After the 49 year-term determined by the agreement, China will have to return the land to Russia. But what will one have to do with the Chinese settlements there? Evict them? How?
There are pessimistic predictions that China seeks to get control over the Russian Far East by renting territories and using migrants to expel locals. Thus, Russia may retain political power but China will rule the lands economically – which is the de-facto control. In accordance with this point of view Russia pays to China with territories for Beijing’s international support.
The notion of a threat to Russia over “the demographic expansion” of adjacent states existed in the concept of national security in 2000-2009, but it was removed from the current concept.
But there are also optimistic forecasts that “the Chinese threat” is a myth and Russia may prevent all immigration and environmental troubles by means of strict regulation, whereas China does not want to take any Russian territories. The fruitful BRICS and SCO summits may prove that the countries see eye to eye with each other and have nothing to argue over.
As I like the both countries and cherish their mutually beneficial cooperation, I hope that the optimistic prognosis is the correct one.
The views and opinions contained in this article are those of the author. They do not necessarily represent the views of Russian Accent.
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In RF some talk about the “Western threat”, some talk about “Chinese threat”. I guess, would Putin had stigmatized not the West but China, he would not have got much criticism from both inside and outside of RF… The West would even back RF in this direction. Do not you see a kind of bias here?
Thanks for your opinion, Blackwhite!
Actually, all the discussion about the Western or the Chinese threats is carried out by politicians. Grassroots Russian people are friendly and scarcely think about any tangible menace from either West or East.
However, historically Russia has suffered from a great deal of wars with Europe and was on the brink of an annihilating nuclear conflict with the US. This aspect plus the current tensions play into the hands of the West’s negative image in the eyes of Russians.
On the contrary, Beijing has never been an enemy (except for the Damanskii case), therefore if you ask any Russian about his/her attitude to China, you will hardly hear anything negative. Just the opposite: you will probaly hear a lot of respectful words about China’s cherished traditions, long history, efficient economic system etc. Moreover, there is one more psychological point: for many Russians who deplore the collapse of the Soviet Union, China looks like a country that did not betray the socialist principles and even further improved them. This deserves Russian people’s respect.
So you must be right about criticizm: if Russia’s leader disliked China, people would not understand the reasons for that.