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Russian-Chinese Relations

Photo of Mariya Omelicheva

Mariya Omelicheva 

Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science 
Associate Director, Center for Russian, East European and Eurasian Studies
Email Address: 
Educational Background Purdue University, PhD, 2007 

Areas of Interest: Security Policy, State Security and Human Rights, Human Rights Law, Non-governmental Actors of World Politics
Research Statement:Dr. Omelicheva's research and teaching interests include international and Eurasian security, counterterrorism and human rights, and Russia's foreign and security policy. Her recent book, titled "Counterterrorism Policies in Central Asia" (Routeledge, 2011) examines the dangerous tendency of counterterrorism policies of the Central Asian states to grow more alike amid propensities for divergence. It applies an approach from social psychology for demonstrating the importance of international setting that shapes governments' perceptions of terrorism and their counterterrorism policies. Some of the recently published work also includes: "Between Commitment and Pragmatism: Assessing International Influence on Human Rights Practices in Georgia" in Journal of Human Rights, "Ethnic Dimension of Religions Extremism and Terrorism in Central Asia" in International Political Science Review, "Security Rights Violations in the Context of Counterterrorism" in The International Journal of Human Rights, "Global Civil Society and Democratization of World Politics: A Bona Fide Relationship or Illusory Liaison?" International Studies Review, "Russian Security and Nuclear Policies: Successor to the Superpower Arsenal?" chapter in The International Studies Encyclopedia, "Constructivism", a chapter for 21st Century Political Science: A Reference Handbook (Sage), and others. She has also published on the issues of students' assessment and application of various research techniques to the analysis of learning outcomes. Currently, Dr. Omelicheva is working on a project in which she applies framing perspective to democracy promotion efforts in Central Asia. 

Chinese-Russian Relations 

China and Russia share a 2700 mile border, they finally agreed on the contested parts of their border and signed an agreement in 2004. 

They share many economic and geopolitical interests and in 2001 signed a treaty on good neighborliness, friendship and cooperation (which has been amended with a number of appendices).

There are, however, important obstacles to cooperation—one of the major impediments to good neighborliness between Russia and China is Chinese migration. Because of the large population size in the border regions of Jilin and Heilmaijang, which are the two areas most migrate from. Migration overlaps with cross border trade and economic development in the border region. 

Why China is interested in Far East—China’s growing appetite for energy is no. 1 interest. Siberia has largest deposits of gas and oil, also Island of Sakhalin (Russia has been using it as bargaining chips in relations). Sale of energy resources is biggest in terms of monetary relations. Iron, coal, timber also demanded in China. Volumes of cross border trade has increased substantially in recent years, and China is one of top trading partners of Russia. Most of the money comes from the sale of oil and gas from Russia, manufactured goods from China. 

Cross border trade is not a recent phenomenon; trade between Russian far east and china’s pacific provinces (1858 and 1860 there's a mistake on the slide). 

When China fought the opium wars with the British empire, Russia took advantage of Japanese weakness to expanded its influence. Treaty provided free trade zone, left settlements intact. 

1881 still more than 15,000 Chinese merchants in region. 

Map from CIA Factbook

1897 32% of popoulation of Amur and Maritime regions were Chinese, they were there because of trade. 

The Russian government became concerned about Chinese influence, but didn’t do anything serious until 1937 when Stalin expelled close to 25,000 Chinese from the Far East and closed the border. It remained closed until the 1980’s. The Russians opened the border in 1980’s and this resulted in a new wave of immigration. 

Most of the immigrants come from Jilin and Heilongjiang provinces, which are economically depressed and impoverished. Chinese residing there have a strong incentive to migrate for economic improvements. Push factors are underdevelopment of China’s northeastern provinces, trade, Chinese labor policy (adopted less strict migration and labor policy to allow work outside of the country). After the breakup of the Soviet Union the Far East experienced hardships because it was cut off from supplies, there was inadequate government support, a high cost of living, the region was underdeveloped compared to the average Russian standard of living. A large percent of Russian citizens left the Far East. Initially Russia welcomed shuttle/barter trade with China. In the mid-1990’s trade decreased dramatically. 

Russia is a federation, consists of 80+ subjects of the federation. The Russian government has divided Russia into 6 federal districts to aid in governance. Almost 40% of geographical territory is in the Far East district, but less than 7 million people live there, which is under 6.7% of total Russian population. 

We actually don’t know what is going on in the Far East—some of the articles, posts, and blogs provide misleading assessments of the level of migration and the number of Chinese living in the Far East. Perceptions and reactions about what is going on and statistics vary according to the source, so we don’t know what is really happening. 

The Moscow government has always claimed that there is a high potential for cooperation with China, but regional leaders believe that the potential for cooperation is overstated because;

  • there is little complementarity between Russian and Chinese economics, 
  • China does not reinvest, 
  • consumer prefer higher quality goods from other countries in region (Japan, Korea), 
  • Oil and gas development doesn’t employ a lot of people, 
  • don’t want to be turned into a resource supplier to China 

Moscow has a broader geopolitical agenda;

  • China can back-up Russia in NATO against western states, 
  • arms sales (china is one of largest buyers of russia’s arms), 
  • peaceful border. 

Regional leaders believe that China represents a threat to the local economy and immigration and see only relative gains (whatever China gains Russia loses). In contrast, Moscow sees absolute gains from cooperation (win-win). 

Views of people—surveys from cities are given in the Powerpoint table 2. The table shows a variation between the center and periphery, but not extreme. Can see a lot of prejudices in Russian news media and blogs. 

The reality is that Russia has strict labor policies, don’t have a lot of Chinese workers coming in (even though China’s policies are lax, Russia’s is not). Do see Chinese markets, but not workers. 

Moscow has an identity that is oriented to the West, and is chauvinistic towards Asia. As a result, many Moscovites buy into rumors and stereotypes because they fit within their self-perception of themselves as cosmopolitan and Western-oriented. 

One aspect of the Russian-Chinese relationship is cross-border marriages. Chinese men and Russian women are the overwhelmingly most common pairing, because there is a surplus of women in the Russian Far East, but interviews with Russian women indicate that their perception is that Chinese men are kinder, economically better off, and work harder. 

There is a question in the survey about “live better, take money back, act badly" and this is a bad survey question. There are too many aspects to the question. As a result, we don’t know which part of it they are responding to. 

There is a perception that China is taking raw materials, but not reinvesting capitol into region, joint-ventures only for transporting raw materials, not building up anything that would benefit region for economic or industrial development. 

China has an industrialized, advanced manufacturing sector, and using raw materials to produce manufactured goods to be sold on the international market results in a better profit than selling raw materials. They can make more profit by using cheap raw materials to create manufactured goods. So there is little economic incentive to reinvest in developing manufacturing in the Russian Far East.

Regions see Moscow as betraying them because of differences in perception of Chinese input—Moscow opens markets, regions are resistant 

There is migration, but we don’t know the level of illegal immigration. Documents are biased because of stereotypes and rumors, so information in news media is biased. Travelers in region contradict “yellow peril” rumors of take-over of Far Eastern villages, so there doesn't seem to be much eye witness support for the rumors. 

More research is needed to determine the true level of migration. But Chinese scholars worry that any research could be blown out of proportion and interfere with Russian-Chinese relations, and so may be hesitant to do research on this topic. 

Individual, regional, federal, international level—actors at each of these levels have different political and economic interests. May not be in the same direction. Difficult to separate, because of influences—propaganda on tv, newspapers, peers, government will influence individual opinions of migration and the consequences of this migration. 

There are some trends we can look to, like the fact that universities in area are now teaching English and Chinese rather than French and German. 

One possible future trend is that Central Asians have given up becoming part of the West because they feel that they have not been welcome. As a result they are emulating different policies, and Chinese and Asian "economic tigers" may be more attractive than increasing relations with the West.