Will China Colonize and Incorporate Siberia?

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.”

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Richard Rousseau

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  1. Wilson F. Engel, III, Ph.D. Reply to Wilson

    The United States Should Support the Immediate Chinese Annexation of Siberia

    The global paradigm for nations, established over two centuries through the Congress of Vienna and the Treaty of Versailles, was maintained after World War II through the stewardship of the United States in partnership with its conquered
    enemies Germany and Japan. During this nearly 70-year stewardship, imperial expansion was held in check by fiat. Africa exited from colonialism, Russia and China emerged as nation states, and the Middle East, Central Asia and, some say, the whole world were stabilized during a time of Islamic extremism.

    At this writing Russia has broken the 200-year-old grand strategic paradigm because the United States has abandoned its role as steward for the global polity and economy. By seizing the Crimea with impunity, threatening Ukraine and Central Europe, cutting military deals with Venezuela and Argentina, rattling its sabers in the Black Sea and the Arctic, arranging for military basing and a new canal in South and Central America, driving a deal to reopen a listening post in Cuba, and driving tough military bargains throughout Central Asia, Russia has reopened the prospect of military imperialism with profound implications for all nations. Ironically, China supported Russia’s occupation of the Crimea in the United Nations and signed historic accords including an unprecedented 30-year gas deal with Russia. If seizing global real estate for reasons of national interest were to become the prevailing trend, as it did under Napoleon Bonaparte and Adolf Hitler, the world would see the demise of democracy and the global reinstitution of the lex talionis. The biggest losers would seem to be Western Europe and the United States, but with one simple maneuver, perhaps this need not be so.

    Game theory suggests that the most dangerous global ploy would be a Siberian land grab by China, whose people have been infiltrating that region quietly for decades. China’s actually occupying Siberia could ignite a nuclear war between China and Russia where no other nation would likely come to the aid of either combatant. Both nations might try to neutralize the United States by a preemptive nuclear attack, but more likely each would hold open the possibility of a temporary nuclear alliance with the United States to crush its opponent.

    Times have changed, and so apparently have the interests of the United States. There are both World War II and Cold War precedents for this strategy. During the height of the Cold War, the United States refused the USSR’s direct request to use nuclear weapons against the Peoples Republic of China. Back then, the United States had a global role. Why should our newly isolationist United States be at all concerned now? The fallout from a Russia-China nuclear conflict might crash the global economy and transform civilization. Probably such a conflict would not end civilization, but it would certainly clarify the fundamental competition that has set Russia on a whirlwind global spree.

    Realistically, if a nuclear conflict can be avoided, the benefits of China’s stewardship over Siberia would outweigh the benefits of continued Russian stewardship of that landmass. Russia’s apparent unconcern about developing Siberia’s vast, unpopulated landscape and about the surfeit of unexploited resources of Siberia is a problem for a world hungry for both.

    But why should China be satisfied with only Siberia? In fact, history can support China’s reestablishing suzerainty over much of what today is called Russia. Of course, the United States would directly benefit from a threat for Russia from the East, and Russia has gravitated away from Europe to Asia anyway. Consequences would include near-term security problems for Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, India and the Arctic, but Russia might become so focused on the Chinese threat in the East that it could not be very seriously threatening to the West, the North or the South.

    The United States, having relinquished its role of global steward without a fight and having been given a breather by a conflict between Russia and China, might take the time to continue to disarm–but more rapidly than it has done so far, to abandon its Navy’s reach across the world’s oceans because that now formidable force is all but useless under current policy, to halt all pretense
    to achieving a ballistic missile defense, and to allow China–which will this year by some measures become the largest political and economic entity on earth–to acquire the room and resources it needs to support its new role as the dominant force in Asia and the world. No single move by the United States offers greater strategic advantage at lower cost—to China.

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