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World View: Russia Makes a Controversial Deal to Lease Siberia Land to China

This morning’s key headlines from GenerationalDynamics.com

  • Russia makes a controversial deal to lease Siberian land to China
  • Russia’s concerns about China’s ‘invasion’ of the Far East continue

Russia makes a controversial deal to lease Siberian land to China

Landscapes in Russia's Trans-Baikal territory (Itar-Tass)
Landscapes in Russia’s Trans-Baikal territory (Itar-Tass)

Russia is planning to lease to a Chinese company for 49 years 115,000 hectares (284,050 acres) of land to grow crops and rear livestock in eastern Siberia. The lease will be at the rate of 250 rubles (about $4.63) per hectare, totaling $26 million, plus investments worth around 3 billion yuans ($448 million).

The land is in in the Trans-Baikal region on the border with China in Russia’s Federal District of Siberia. This announcement has provoked nationalists in Moscow and Siberia, who may welcome China’s investments, but are unhappy with the influx of ethnic Chinese that would enter the region.

This caused an uproar in social media, with comments like, “China’s creeping expansion in Russia has begun” and “the Motherland is being sold out piece by piece.”

This has forced Russian officials to call concerns about Chinese expansion a “myth.” According to one Russian analyst:

There are fears of irrational nature about China in society.

China is perceived in Russian consciousness as something alien and different compared with western culture. Besides, China is developing so swiftly that many Russians fear that it may suppress Russia. …

[Also,] China possesses some of the world’s most advanced agricultural technologies and could help Russia in this respect.

However, other analysts are raising concerns about proposed terms of the deal that Russian officials are rarely mentioning: namely that the Chinese plan a “large-scale” migration to the leased Russian lands.

According to a Russian analysis, quoting Chinese media:

Leasing Russian land to the Chinese, apparently, goes far beyond a purely agricultural enterprise.

China has its own requirements for the project: … ‘If you can’t legally solve the problem of large-scale involvement of the Chinese labor force, any long-term cooperation with Chinese agricultural enterprises [is] out of the question,” [according to China’s] ‘Huanqiu Shibao newspaper.’ In other words, the Chinese say that the existing border and migration regime with Russia do not suit them. …

[Russians] are wary of China’s economic expansion in the light of China’s territorial claims on Russia. … Beijing is well aware that the issue of delivery of Russian land is not solved in the administration of the Trans-Baikal Territory. That is why Beijing calls a long-term transfer of land the “ideological emancipation” of Russia to China. …

[The letter of intent for the lease] indicates that the project will be implemented only with “large-scale” Chinese migration to Russia. … So, under these restrictions, Moscow will have to agree to the abolition of the existing border and migration regime for the Chinese.

Window On Eurasia / Paul Goble and Itar-Tass and Nezavisimaya Gazeta (Trans)

Russia’s concerns about China’s ‘invasion’ of the Far East continue

In my recent article “18-Jun-15 World View — Russia’s ‘saber-rattling’ nuclear threat may be directed at China, not Europe”, I quoted an analyst who suggested that Russia’s threat to add more than 40 ICBMs to its nuclear arsenal was made because of existential threats from China rather than from Europe.

Several web site readers said that this didn’t make sense. One comment said:

I don’t see it. Vladivostok is the home of the Russian Pacific Fleet. Russia has over two dozen nuclear-armed submarines alone, swimming around. Eastern Russia is armed to the teeth to ward off and respond to US attack, a legacy of the Cold War. Russia has been granted port facilities in Vietnam, a long time ally. In addition, Russia has excellent commercial ties with China and has just signed a long term oil deal with them. China and Russia’s interests are economically win-win. They each gain from each other’s economic strength: raw material (Russia), manufacturing (China). They have a symbiotic economic and political interest in trade with the rest of the world, especially Europe. China would surely benefit from Russian collapse, but only if they could then expropriate, occupy, govern and defend a vast territory – and for what? They already have a sweet deal for the only thing Russia is useful for: raw materials.

It is true that Russia and China have managed to paper over their differences in the last few years, but Russia and China have had centuries of extremely bitter and violent relations, at least since the 13th century Mongol invasion of Russia. As recently as 1969 there was a border war between China and Russia, with the threat of a much wider war.

There is something that China values more than raw materials or even people: land. And that’s what is at issue in the Trans-Baikal deal in Russia’s Federal District of Siberia described above.

The situation in Russia’s Federal District of Far East — which is even farther east than Siberia — is particularly desperate for Russia. The Far East is an enormous region, but only 7.4 million Russians populate the region. This means that the region acts as a kind of “safety valve” for migrants from northeast China, with its population of 70 million.

According to some estimates, there are 2-5 million Chinese illegal immigrants living in Russia’s Far East, and the number is increasing by a million or so every year.

For those who might enjoy some Schadenfreude at Russia’s expense, consider the following: Russia justified last year’s illegal invasion and annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula by saying that Russia needed to protect all the Russian citizens living there.

So, as Chinese migrants pour into Russia’s Far East, it won’t be long before the Chinese can use Russia’s argument against Russia: China has to annex Russia’s Far East in order to protect all the Chinese citizens living there.

At any rate, the purpose of the article on Russia’s nuclear saber-rattling was to make the point that Russia cannot win a conventional war with China in the Far East, and so would have to resort to nuclear weapons, just as Pakistan cannot win a conventional war with India, and would have to resort to nuclear weapons, which might be why Russia is adding nuclear ICBMs to its inventory. ABC News (2014) and Jamestown (2014)

KEYS: Generational Dynamics, Russia, Siberia, Trans-Baikal, China, Far East, Ukraine, Crimea
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