Author`s name Dmitry Sudakov

Chinese dragon's breath fresh for Russia


Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev arrived to the People's Republic of China with a visit. At this stage, is China a reliable political and economic partner of Russia or a potential colonizer of Siberia and the Far East? Where will the vector of Russia-China cooperation turn and will the situation at the border impede the development of the relations?  

The main problem in the relations between the Russian Federation and China, the problem of territorial claims, has been resolved.  The matter has been settled by the agreement signed in 1991, when the border was drawn on the fairway of the Amur. Yet, speculation that China will remember of its imperial possessions in Russia are as real as the claims of some people in Russia to return the country to the border of the Russian Empire. In this regard all is good, and the latest news is that in November of 2010 an agreement was reached to jointly develop the Big Ussuri Island.

"Politically, the cooperation is at a very high level. In the military -technical area this is also the case. The countries have jointly defended Syria," Andrei Ostrovsky, deputy director of the Institute of Far Eastern Studies, told Pravda.Ru.

Indeed, there is a mutual understanding about the American threat in the Asia- Pacific region, the Afghan problem, and extremism in Central Asia. These issues are addressed within the framework of the BRICS and the SCO. "The main problems are in the field of economics. Trade between China and Russia is at $87, 5 billion, with South Korea - $270 billion, and the U.S. - $400 billion," said Ostrovsky. "Therefore, the goal of Medvedev's visit is to expand economic cooperation. In what ways? In the field of energy, science and technology, as well as regional cooperation. We have signed an agreement for the development of the border areas through 2018 and should act in accordance with it," the expert said.

The situation is not all that simple and smooth as it seems. Yes, officially the Russian Federation has invited China to invest in the economic development of the border areas, but the Russian society has a strong fear that the Chinese side is conducting an uncontrolled creeping expansion to the Far East and Siberia. There is a popular belief that Russia is turning into a raw material appendage of China, that poachers move furs out of Russia and smugglers move jade and amber. There is a popular belief that Chinese illegals work at underground sawmills, that Chinatowns expand in cities, and that on-farm the Chinese poison soil and produce poisonous pesticide products. And finally, the main horror story is that Russian women marry Chinese men increasingly more often, and Russia may face the change of the genotype of the nation.

Pravda.Ru asked regional experts to comment on these concerns. "There is no colonization of the Far East, there are few checkpoints on the border, and according to entrepreneurs border guards are tough and limit the Chinese consumer tourism," told Associate Professor of Economics at Blagoveshchensk State Pedagogical University and an independent business consultant Andrew Konyushok.
"In addition, our immigration service counts all migrant workers, and the governors, in particular in the Amur region, banned farmers from employing Chinese workers starting this year. This is not because of the "colonization," but because their farming involves extensive use of chemicals and they do not re-cultivate land," said the expert. He believes that rumors about Chinatowns are spread by residents of western regions of Russia who visited the Amur region. In fact, this phenomenon does not exist in the Far East.

"Here Chinese mostly work legally, even in construction, while in Moscow the majority of immigrants are employed illegally. The Chinese side works very well in this regard, for example, the authorities of certain provinces provide incentives to Chinese manufacturers if they produce products for export to Russia. It is beneficial for them to do everything officially," said Konyushok. He added that there is a category of people that are risk-prone and engage in smuggling, and cases of interception of jade, amber and products of poaching are frequent. "But customs employees have good agents at the border, there is a good system, and they argue that they intercept most of the contraband," said the expert.

"We have a much smaller inflow of Chinese immigrants than in the Far East," Michael Dronov, editor-in-chief of the Irkutsk trade newspaper told Pravda.Ru. "It is quiet in Siberia and in the Far East. There are immigrants, but all the talk about the colonization of Siberia by China is unhealthy speculation on the part of Moscow's politicized establishment," continued the expert. "The Chinese have nothing to do here; they cannot live in our climate. It is cold, uncomfortable, boring, women are too tall and inaccessible, and all this mythology can be rebutted by any competent Moscow ethnographer."

The expert believes that there is some semblance of Chinatown in Irkutsk, but it is "some dorm with signs, just like everywhere else in the world." 90 percent of the Chinese enter the Irkutsk region legally, and all quotas are being revised downward. Dronov does not think it is justified. "We should not politicize the issue. If we cut the quota, it will increase the price of a square meter of housing and worsen its quality," he said. Dronov argues that conflicts with Chinese workers, for example, a conflict that had a wide coverage in the national press last June between villagers and the Chinese - sawmill workers  was a simple domestic drunken dispute. The inspection showed that the workers had a license to operate in the village.

Thus, not only there is no expansion and colonization, but there is a lack of Chinese presence in the good sense in Russia, mainly due to poor infrastructure (no bridge across the Amur and Ussuri rivers), no political will, no favorable treatment of Chinese investors. "As I was told in Blagoveshchensk, after the flood the authorities will not revive the local shopping center, a huge facility. Why? There is no trade with anyone." Ostrovsky told Pravda.Ru.

Lyuba Lulko


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