The Russian Far East: New Directions: Dmitry Shlapentokh Reviews the Sino-Russian Agreement of September 2009 regarding Development of Russia's Eastern Region

By Shlapentokh, Dmitry | New Zealand International Review, March-April 2010 | Go to article overview

The Russian Far East: New Directions: Dmitry Shlapentokh Reviews the Sino-Russian Agreement of September 2009 regarding Development of Russia's Eastern Region


Shlapentokh, Dmitry, New Zealand International Review


Post-Soviet Russia and China have a difficult relationship. Russia, while flirting with China, is fearful of Chinese expansion. Still, the September 2009 agreement between Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao indicates that Russia cannot avoid recognising China's increasing economic influence. And in this it is no different from most of Asia. According to the agreement, China reportedly will engage in the funding and development of natural resources in the Far East and Siberia, employing a mostly Chinese work force. The Chinese workers will have only temporary visas and return to China by the end of each work day.

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Russian Siberia and the Far East were populated and industrialised only because of the strong authoritarian and totalitarian governments of the czars and communist leaders. They are the ones who sent convicts, encouraged migration, and invested huge funds to industrialise the area. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the props of the centralised totalitarian machine collapsed; and nothing emerged to replace them despite the endless affirmation of the people in the Kremlin that keeping the territories in the east from the Urals was absolutely essential. Still, the decay started almost a generation ago and became so apparent that even Dmitry Medvedev in one of his trips to the Far East some time ago acknowledged this.

Despite a windfall of oil/gas money throughout Putin's tenure nothing was done and with the sharp decline of oil/gas prices, the search for future investments had practically dried up or, at least, made Moscow even more reluctant to invest in the Far East. And a search for foreign sponsors had emerged in the mind of the Russian elite. Naturally, China was considered as the most logical option because of its proximity and its interest in Far Eastern resources. Several projects emerged in the minds of the Russian elite as to how to entice China to engage in the development of the Far East. One of them was put forward a few months ago and implied leasing at least half of Vladivostok to China for several generations. The plan led to a public outcry and was shelved.

Still, a new plan emerged and seems to have been clinched by Medvedev in his September meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao, at least according to Vedomosti, a respectable Russian news vehicle. According to the plan, China would engage in the funding and development of natural resources in the Far East and Siberia. The enterprise would employ a mostly Chinese work force. As to reducing the fear of creeping Chinaisation of the region and, implicitly, future annexation of the area by China, a provision of the agreement stated that the Chinese workers should have only temporary visas and even return to China by the end of the work day.

Hostile reaction

Some members of the Russian public, especially those with nationalistic views, regarded the plan as the manifestation of Moscow treachery and the selling out of Russia. They asserted--and not without grounds--that no provision or visa limitations would prevent increasing numbers of Chinese in the region and its final absorption by China. Still, the major threat for Russia's territorial integrity could be not a multitude of Chinese overwhelming Russia, but Russians themselves, at least the residents of the Far East. Increasing economic ties with China would inevitably drive them toward Beijing, not toward Moscow.

This trend could well be illustrated by the view of one Russian businessman, whom I met in Shanghai's airport. The man started his acquaintance with me with a joke that he was a nice and broad-minded person and he hated only 'blacks and racism'. He seems hardly to subscribe to 'multiculturalism', the essential profession of faith in American academia, media and government. He also admitted that he did not much like the Chinese and wished to go to the United States; its major attraction, at least in his view, is that it is still a country mostly of the white man. …

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