China: The Russian Front

China: The Russian Front, by Jim Dunnigan.

Russia is trying to cope with the fact that the newly (for the first time in history) modernized Chinese forces are a long-term threat to Russia. In China, there is lots of new gear and plenty to go around. China has a more effective economy and lots more money. Worst of all for Russia there are many ways to weaponize wealth. Examples abound in far eastern Russia and that is most unwelcome with most Russians.

The threat became very real recently when Russia offered for sale or lease a million hectares (2.5 million acres) of unused (abandoned after the Soviet Union collapse in the 1990s) farmland in the Russian Far East. Foreign nations can participate and China is expected to buy up 500,000 hectares (with South Korea and Japan talking over 200,000 hectares). Local Russians protested and pointed out that this would mean more Chinese allowed in to run the new farms and danger to other farms and water supplies because Chinese farming methods rely on the heavier use of pesticides and fertilizer. The Russian government, eight time zones to the west, paid little attention to the complaints.

Chinese entrepreneurs have quietly taken control of the local economy in those parts of Russia that border China and North Korea. … China has a historical claim on this area, claims which China revived after World War II when the communists took over China. Those revived claims led to border skirmishes during the 1970s that were halted when Russia made it clear it was prepared to risk nuclear war over the issue. That Russian policy still stands, although it is not publicized.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991 and the Russian economy went free market and open to foreign trade and investment China saw an opportunity to get back its lost lands in the Russian Far East. The plan is for China to slowly absorb the Russian Far East economically and demographically (with more Chinese settling in the Russian Far East, legally or otherwise.) Eventually, Russia finds that Chinese comprise most of the population in their far eastern provinces and control the economy as well. This approach takes longer but is less likely to trigger a nuclear war with Russia. …

Meanwhile, the most potent threat to Russia is internal. The corruption has been much more extensive than in China and, in comparison to China, Russia has been a much more difficult place to start and profitably run any kind of enterprise. That is one reason why Russian shipbuilding (both military and commercial) is considered below par while Chinese efforts are world class and a major part of the much larger Chinese economy. Same with most defense firms in China.

The greater corruption in Russia not only drives more of the local talent out of the country but also a lot of new wealth. China created all of its new wealth with a rapidly developing and expanding local economy and that persuades many talented Chinese expatriates to return. Chinese who made money preferred to invest it in China. In contrast, much more of the new wealth in Russia (largely because of oil exports) was stolen and illegally moved outside Russia.