In June 2010, the Xinhua News Agency reported that China had leased a total of 426,600 hectares in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (District) – popularly known as Birobidzhan – and the Khabarovsk region of Russia to Chinese farmers. This has caught Russian nationalists’ attention; they have called the arrival of waves of farmers the beginning of “the Chinese conquest” of Siberia.
A floating population of tens of thousands Chinese traders and seasonal workers continually moves back and forth across the border, one of the longest in the world. The immigrants settle not only in border areas but increasingly deeper into Russian territory, and some backlash is imminent. These developments raise several questions for Russia as to the migration’s impact, China’s long-term plans for Siberia, and potential Chinese dominance in the region. And yet, diplomatic relations between China and Russia have never been better. China and Russia enjoy mutual cooperation in the spheres of defense, technology, energy and bilateral trade. Why would China take any steps which would destroy such mutually rewarding relations?
China has allocated a definite place for Russia in its policies: it is primarily a source of raw materials and an outlet for goods not suitable for what they consider more discriminating markets. Siberia is particularly important due to the natural resources it contains: copper, zinc and other raw materials. The region is also well positioned to facilitate land-based transit of various resources from Africa and the Middle East that would otherwise have to cross pirate-infested waters. Russia has proved itself a stable and reliable trade partner, at least under the Putin and Medvedev’s presidencies. Aside from geography, the sheer number of Chinese willing to invest in the Russian economy makes their relationship a natural one. Russia has the resources and markets China needs and China the financial capital to infuse much-needed investments into the Russian economy. In January 2011, Sergei Luzyanin, deputy director of Moscow’s Far East Institute, said that Europe simply “cannot compete with China in terms of investments into the Russian economy.”