China Looms Over Russia’s Far East
At The Diplomat, Gabe Collins describes the uneasy balances of trade and demography in Russia’s far east, and the region’s importance to Sino-Russian and broader international relations.
Russian media sources say that in the past year, Chinese investors have invested $3 billion in the Russian Far East – about three times as much as the Russian Federal Government spent over the same period. Of course, spending isn’t the only gauge of how a region fits into a country more broadly. However, increasing economic and business ties between China and Eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East will be powerful levers of influence, particularly as China’s economic power continues to rise.
Why does this relationship, and this region, matter so much? There are several reasons, both local and global. For a start, if Russia feels like it is backstopped by a friendly but resource-hungry China, it’s likely to be a tougher to deal with on economic and security issues because the Kremlin will feel it has more leverage. Correspondingly, colder Sino-Russian ties could steer Moscow toward a more Atlanticist course and favour relations with Europe and the United States ….
The question, then, is whether increased trade and demographic links between China and Russia will translate into a stronger diplomatic partnership, or instead trigger friction that keeps the countries divided? … But it’s more than just about the dynamics between these two countries. In addition to rising distrust of China in Russia, the fact that China’s most important economic and security relationship is with the United States is likely to limit how deeply Beijing will engage Moscow. Just as commodities are fungible, for China, partnership with Moscow is ultimately replaceable at many levels. Engagement with the United States, in contrast, is critical and irreplaceable for China – and the United States as well.
See also China and Russia Circling Around Trillion-Dollar Gas Deal, on the trade negotiations accompanying Hu Jintao’s visit to Moscow last week.