‘Chinese Question’ Looks Far More Threatening In Siberia Than In Moscow – OpEd


Russians in Moscow and European Russia are concerned about the rise of China and the impact of this on Russia with stories about Beijing’s purchases of companies and recruitment of Russian scientists a regular feature in the media (avmalgin.livejournal.com/6580993.html and svpressa.ru/economy/article/159842/).

But an increasing number of Russians living in underpopulated regions of Siberia and the Russian Far East right next to burgeoning China view what they now call “the Chinese question” very differently and often far more apocalyptically than do their co-ethnics in Moscow or European Russia.

Two commentaries from the region this past week highlight that distinction and the very real fears of China Russians east of the Urals have and their expectations about what Moscow should do to defend what they define as Russian national interests against the rise of Chinese power and influence.

The first of these is by Galina Solonina, a senior scholar at the STI Regional Information-Analytic Center, who says that while Moscow may welcome Chinese investment, people in Irkutsk don’t and they have their reasons (newizv.ru/society/2016-11-07/248756-ekspert-kitajcy-v-irkutskoj-oblasti-vyseljat-so-vremenem-russkih.html; from pda.ura.ru/articles/1036269420).

The Transbaikal “like other eastern lands of Russia,” she says, “has already had its encounters with ‘the Chinese question,’ and it doesn’t have good feelings about the role of Chinese investment, Chinese tourism, and the increasing presence of Chinese residents in what have been Russian territories.

Sometimes the Chinese operate completely legally, Solonina says; but often they violate agreements or by the use of corrupt methods do whatever they want. In Irkutsk oblast, for example, “more than 50 percent of all the illegal” cutting of wood in the country occurs and most of it by Chinese firms.

Chinese involvement in agriculture in Siberia and the Far East also hasn’t worked out as Moscow promised. The Chinese farmers have so over-farmed or over-fertilized the land that it now can’t be used to grow food for years to come. The Chinese, of course, have gone home; but they have left the local population with this problem too.

And Chinese tourism is anything but the great advantage it is advertised as being, Solonina continues. “The Chinese illegally found closed companies: they bring in the tourist and service them by putting them in hotels owned by Chinese, feeding them in Chinese restaurants,” and providing them with Chinese guides. Local people earn nothing from this.

But more serious still, the expert argues, is that the Chinese are coming and staying, often driving out Russians from neighborhoods and entire settlements. Local Russians feel like second class citizens in their own country, and they fear that “today we have given China tourism, the forest, and agriculture. Tomorrow, we will give them land and natural resources.” And then the question will be who is going to leave?

A second and reinforcing view from beyond the Urals is provided by Khabarovsk journalist Viktor Maryasin in an article for “Literaturnaya gazeta” (lgz.ru/article/-43-6573-2-11-2016/est-li-u-priamurya-russkoe-budushchee/) and in a comment on that article by Igor Romanov, the editor of the Beregrus portal (beregrus.ru/?p=8259).

Entitling his article “Does the Priamurye have a Russian Future?” Maryasin says that the statistics when you can find them at all are anything but promising. Even though Khabarovsk kray has more births than deaths now, its population is declining because of radical outmigration of ethnic Russians.

During the first half of this year, he reports, 1939 more people from the kray left than arrived from European Russia, while at the same time, the number of immigrants, mostly from China and Central Asia, rose by 30 percent over the previous year to a total of 2181. Those figures dwarf the 242 Russian arrivals in whom the authorities put so much faith.

Maryasin suggests that the situation is becoming ever more dire because the indigenous non-Russians often view the immigrant groups like the Chinese as culturally closer to them than they are to the Russians and that makes the impact of Chinese immigration far larger than even the official numbers indicate.

According to the 2010 census, “approximately 90 percent of Khabarovsk residents consider themselves ethnic Russianss, but now on the streets of the city, every fifth passerby is from the southern abroad [China and Central Asia],” and many of the non-Russians there now feel it is more their city than that of the Russians.

Beregrus’ Romanov agrees. He says that what Maryasin describes has been going on for some time and reflects the approach of Moscow officials who are only concerned about economics and fail to pay attention to warnings like the article in “Literaturnaya gazeta” that point to disaster ahead.

“The lack of spirituality of policy and of our life is leading to a situation in which migrants from alien cultures are taking the place of Russians,” Romanov says. And he says that the time is now “to begin to make clear that the salvation of Russia and Russians lies not in the sphere of economics or even in the development of folkloric Russian culture and language.”

That path lies, the Orthodox Russian nationalist says, not in narrow nationalism but in following Christianity. If the government continues its policy of taking into consideration only economic interests, he concludes, this “will lead to the collapse of Russia,” beginning in the Far East.

Paul Goble

Paul Goble is a longtime specialist on ethnic and religious questions in Eurasia. Most recently, he was director of research and publications at the Azerbaijan Diplomatic Academy. Earlier, he served as vice dean for the social sciences and humanities at Audentes University in Tallinn and a senior research associate at the EuroCollege of the University of Tartu in Estonia. He has served in various capacities in the U.S. State Department, the Central Intelligence Agency and the International Broadcasting Bureau as well as at the Voice of America and Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. Mr. Goble maintains the Window on Eurasia blog and can be contacted directly at [email protected] .