Home > Analysis, Foreign Relations, media, Opinion, politics > The Myth of a Chinese takeover in Siberia – Continued

The Myth of a Chinese takeover in Siberia – Continued

As an avid follower and enthusiast of modern trends in Sino-Russian relations (and media coverage thereof), I saw this “jewel” of an op-ed in the New York Times earlier this week, titled “Why China will Reclaim Siberia“. This type of Sinophobic fear-mongering is nothing new in the western media. With amusement, I read through it with the slight hope of finding some new, compelling arguments other than the same old rhetoric of “there are so many Chinese and so few Russians”. Unsurprisingly, there were none. I have written on this subject previously, and demonstrated why the so-called “invasion by mass migration” from China into the Russian Far East is a myth. Ethnic Chinese consists of 3% of the Russian Far East regional population, and most of that 3% are seasonal migrants with no intention of long-term settlement. Another noteworthy nuance is that these ethnic Chinese are concentrated largely in Russian urban centers where they have no chance of attaining a numerical majority. Reality aside, I understand that in the realm of propaganda and misinformation, facts and data-driven logic are optional conveniences.

Nevertheless, I will pose another question that few, if anyone, has asked in the discourse over this topic – is it actually in China’s strategic interests to seize sovereign control of the Russian Far East (RFE) or any part of Siberia? It seems like few, if anyone, has done any basic, high-level cost-benefit analysis from a Chinese strategic perspective. When we put forth even a casual effort to weigh the costs and benefits, the answer becomes quickly apparent – NO, it’s not. As usual, for those who do not want to read too much, the bolded text provides an adequate summary.

Any attempt by the PRC to takeover Russian territory in the RFE and/or Siberia would be a huge strategic mistake for China. There are three main reasons for this.

1. China reaps EXPONENTIALLY MORE benefits from a stable, progressive relationship with Russia than a hostile takeover of Siberia. The primary motive attributed to a Chinese takeover scenario is access to Russia’s vast natural resources. However, China already has access to Russia’s natural resources without having to resort to risky land seizure schemes. Such access will only expand as Russia urgently diversifies its economy as part of its own “Asian Pivot”, in the face of western sanctions and enduring US hostility. Additionally, Russia has far more to offer China than just natural resources. It is a middle-income emerging market of about 145 million consumers, a partner in all multilateral institutions, a balancing force to an otherwise unfettered US hegemon, as well as a source of nuclear energy and military technology. But perhaps most important of all in the coming decade, Russia is a critical land bridge in China’s efforts to build the New Silk Road. All these strategic benefits will be jeopardized if an attempted hostile takeover of the RFE provoked Russia into closing its doors to China, and returning to a hostile stance reminiscent of the 60s.

2. A hostile Russia – even if weakened – will pose a strategic, existential threat to the PRC. Any Chinese attempt at taking over Russian territory would squander the comprehensive partnership and goodwill built up with Russia since the funeral diplomacy days of the early 80s, and cause an anti-Chinese backlash. Russia has a range of retaliatory options at its disposal. The most obvious of which would be material and political support for separatist movements in Tibet, Xinjiang, and Taiwan. Moscow can also exercise its persisting regional political influence to sabotage Chinese economic ties with Central Asia, and rollback Chinese advances in the Silk Road project. If by some miracle China actually succeeds in taking over parts of the RFE, it would have 4-6 million angry local ethnic Russians to deal with, among whom Russia would surely instigate political defiance and armed rebellion against PRC occupation. Even if Russia does not want to take retaliatory measures out of nationalistic hostility, it would be forced to do so out of strategic necessity, simply to distract China from further incursion, and ensure its own national survival. Such threats would be exacerbated if a future US-Russian detente enabled the two powers to collaborate in these efforts.

3. There is no feasible, realistic option to implement a Chinese takeover, which has any reasonable prospect of success. We can segment these options into four broad categories:
– Military action is a non-starter. A military takeover of the RFE/Siberia would require a full-scale invasion against the world’s largest nuclear weapons state. Obviously, no amount of Russian land or natural resources could offset the devastation China would incur when such a war escalates to nuclear proportions.
– Political subversion instruments are non-existent. Unlike the US and Europe, China does not have a well-trained and experienced network of “NGOs”, “activists”, and other political operatives, with which to subvert Russia’s government and engineer regime change. Even if that were a possibility, what is the likelihood that these regime change agents would be such brainwashed 5th columnist sinophiles, that they would openly surrender RFE sovereignty to China over the Russian people’s objections?
– Demographic “invasion” simply isn’t happening. As mentioned in my previous blog, ethnic Chinese make up about 3% of the RFE population. By that estimate, there are more ethnic Chinese in New York than there are in the entire RFE.
– Economic “hegemony” is impossible in the face of competition. The latest commonly touted argument against Sino-Russian trade expansion is that this would reduce Russia to a resource appendage of China. Such an argument conveniently ignores the fact that Russia – until recently – has been a near-exclusive resource appendage to the EU, who remains Russia’s top trading partner despite rapid Sino-Russian trade growth. Neither the EU nor the major East Asian economies would simply acquiesce to Chinese economic hegemony in Russia.

In short, a pragmatic and well-informed Chinese leader would see that it is NOT in the PRC’s strategic interests to takeover the Russian Far East or Siberia. Any such attempt would severely deteriorate China’s strategic environment and has a near-zero probability of success.

  1. Zack
    January 16th, 2015 at 22:22 | #1

    ever since Putin’s Russia and China signed the gas deal and agreed to a defacto alliance against the US, the American propaganda klaxons have been trying to prey on Russian insecurities so as to pressure the Russian people or the Russian political establishment to back the Atlanticist integrationists rather than those calling for closer relations with Eurasian countries as well as China.

    This article is but one of many clumsy attempts at preying on Russian anxieties, as well as an obvious Appeal to Racism: yes, why wouldnt the pure white russians ally with noble anglo americans as willing slaves to hold back the almighty zerg rush of the drone like Chinese?!

    OP, you raise many good points about the Sino-Russian relationship but most importantly and i do enjoy paraphrasing the ardent American imperialist, Edward Luttwack: China will be able to use its relationship with Russia to control US hegemony and mischief around the world, but especially in Asia itself.

  2. ersim
    January 16th, 2015 at 22:22 | #2

    Two words YELLOW PERIL. Only the West can come up with such an idiotic concept into scaring the Russians away from China and “join and embrace their Western brothers”.

  3. Zack
    January 16th, 2015 at 22:54 | #3

    @ersim
    i’d consider it to be the Freudian concept of an inferiority complex amongst Anglo-Americans yet surprisingly acute amongst wannable anglos like anson chan or non anglo ethnicities struggling with their own burning sense of apparent racial inferiority in comparison to China’s rise and rise;
    the mudsill theory internationale if you wil: they can be either eastern europeans who feel inferior next to western europeans/americans but want to remind themselves that they are caucasian and therefore must be superior to coloured races for the fact that they are caucasian. Or you might get the case of an Indian China basher who believes the propaganda from the West and calls Chinese people ‘chinks’ if only to bury the shame that China has surpassed India on all fronts and then some.

    racism is deeply psychological and is especially prevalent amongst either young men who cant get a girl or old men and women who have nothing else going for them in life but a desperate attempt at shoring up their legacy of the apparent “superority of the west” “superiority of the white man”

  4. United Chinese Diaspora
    January 17th, 2015 at 00:23 | #4

    Personally I trust Putin more than Obama.

    Obama is a joke. I wonder what would happen if Charlie Hebdo drew a cartoon of a gay black monkey that turned out to be a puppet.

    Would the west still be calling for freedom of expression.

    One thing you have to admire about the Anglos is that they are united. The five eyes don’t include France or Germany because it is based on the Anglo race exceptionalism. If the BRICS and the Koreas and Japan (as a pan national comprehensiveness rather than exceptionalism) can be united the same way, I think there will be peace in the world. The US has been throwing its weight around for far too long, a united Sino-Russian front would be a threat to US tyranny and hegemony.

    Recently I heard that China was forced to buy genetically modified corn from the US in order to avoid trade barriers. We all have heard about how GM foods cause cancer and health problems, so now the American big corps want to poison the Chinese people.

    One thing I want to point out is that I like the American people but there is definitely something wrong with the American governments and institutions.

    The big corp medias want to instill chaos in the minds of the North American populace. The US government is declaring wars left and right yet people are getting so desensitized to it and are walking around like zombies.

    Where is the American conscience that made the US so great before.

    Today people are so brainwashed that the American Great Society is actually a lynch mob democracy.

    A good example would the the Charlie Hebdo fiasco in which the whole world is called to arms against the Muslim’s attack on freedom of expression when in fact the root cause is France’s feeble schizophrenic solution to secularism. The concept of “laicite” or the separation of state and church is the pride and joy of French nationalism. Yet you see Sarkozy a Jew making laws prohibiting Muslim women from wearing the hijab. Yet you don’t see any white French people standing up for the rights of the Muslims in that the State has no right to interfere with the church.

    The white French are whoring themselves for political pettiness and defended Charlie Hebdo in formenting hatred by desecrating what is sacrosanct to Muslims.

    The attack on Charlie Hebdo is not an attack on freedom of expression but the mortifying demise of French laicite.

    France as a nation is in denial.

    It’s a revelation that the French cannot handle so in an desperate act of cowardice they decide to scapegoat the Muslims.

    A true demonstration of French small dick symptom.

    The Western news and social medias had no problems triggering a lynch mob with the buzz code “freedom of expression”.

    The same technique is used in an attempt to divide the Sino-Russian alliance with repeated brainwashing lies.

    The scary thing is that sometimes they do work.

  5. United Chinese Diaspora
    January 17th, 2015 at 08:25 | #5

    wow, this really surprised me, I was looking for the American conscience but found the French conscience.

    The founder of Charlie Hebdo is coming out and dare to seek the truth.

    http://news.yahoo.com/charlie-hebdo-founder-blames-slain-editor-for-provoking-attack-185458716.html

  6. N.M.Cheung
    January 17th, 2015 at 12:57 | #6

    I think most Westerners will dismiss the idea of takeover of Siberia, but the narrative of aggressive, nationalistic China does show on the question of Southern China Sea Islands, on Diayu Islands with respect to Japan, and possibly Mongolia. Most people in Western countries have no background of the history of China. They assume China will be aggressive given their own histories and propaganda. Now the emphasis is on China’s intentions toward Africa as new colonialism giving their own past histories.

  7. January 17th, 2015 at 18:14 | #7

    @N.M.Cheung
    I think whether westerners believe the myth really depends on who they are. Western academics & political elites who are informed enough to have a substantive discussion on the subject understands that a Chinese takeover of the RFE is a very unlikely outcome. Most of the masses (at least in the US) simply don’t know that such an issue even exists (not really surprising). Whereas the amateurs who get their news from the mainstream media will swallow up such myths without independent inquiry.

    To be fair, this type of Sinophobia is not exclusively promoted in the West, it actually originated in Russia during the chaos and weakness of the 90s. This was a real fear among regional policy makers in the RFE, and consequently, Moscow as well. These days, the informed policy elites have largely gotten over the yellow peril myths, as has the consensus in the academic community. Nevertheless, you still have the occasional security professional and the masses who believe in such things and accept this myth at the most superficial level without digging deeper into the issue. Here is one example:

    http://siberiantimes.com/other/others/news/n0092-former-head-of-moscow-fsb-warns-russia-could-lose-territory-to-china/

    Unfortunately, this is as much a problem of western propaganda, as it is one of remnant Russian xenophobia.

  8. stdc
    January 19th, 2015 at 06:57 | #8

    Hope, you do not mind, we published a translation of your posts on our site: http://studychinese.ru/articles/9/192/
    Thank you so much for this new look at the problem!
    Best regards,
    Sergei

  9. January 19th, 2015 at 08:58 | #9

    @stdc
    Don’t mind at all, it’ll give me a great chance to read & improve my Russian, by learning how to express my own thoughts in that language.

    Feel free to take my other articles from here (as long as proper attribution is given) as you see fit.

    Good to see we’re getting through to a Russian audience. All too often Chinese & Russians perceive each other through western lenses, instead of directly interacting with each other & thinking independently.

  10. stdc
    January 19th, 2015 at 10:31 | #10

    @Mister Unknown
    I’m agree, russian internet is full of articles aka New York Times or Reuters sinophobic, but have no any other points of view – just some people say, that chinese don’t like syberian strong frost – they prefer south…

  11. January 19th, 2015 at 23:38 | #11

    @stdc
    Well, thanks for publishing this to a Russian audience, any way to get in touch? At some point I want to write a piece about the complementary & competitive elements of the Eurasian Union & the New Silk Road. I think that’s another one of those seldom-elaborated topics in Sino-Russian relations. Quite frankly, I’m not sure that would be a good fit for HH, since it doesn’t really touch on media issues in any significant way.

  12. Strangelove
    January 20th, 2015 at 01:26 | #12

    Reason 4 – Siberia is simply too damn cold and desolate for the Chinese….

  13. Panthera Tigris Amoyensis
    January 20th, 2015 at 01:29 | #13

    There’s been some recent interesting articles by Chris Devonshire-Ellis over on China Briefing about the Eurasian Economic Union and the new Silk Road and how these affect China and Russia-China trade. As far as I can see he’s the only guy whose been covering China-Russia at all in any detail:
    http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2015/01/09/new-eurasian-economic-union-china-fta-offing.html
    and
    http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2015/01/15/chinas-proposed-new-silk-road-free-trade-area.html
    and
    http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2014/12/24/china-russia-trade-boom-2015.html

  14. stdc
    January 20th, 2015 at 05:35 | #14

    @Mister Unknown
    Very actual topics in modern Russia. My e-mail netmels.ems@gmail.com (hi, spammers!), will happy to help or read any new materials!

  15. Panthera Tigris Amoyensis
  16. Panthera Tigris Amoyensis
    January 22nd, 2015 at 04:45 | #16

    More on China Briefing about trade with the Caucasus regions: http://www.china-briefing.com/news/2015/01/22/chinas-trade-former-soviet-states.html

  17. February 1st, 2015 at 23:26 | #17

    @N.M.Cheung

    Here is an editorial in xinhua about the continued Western attempt to depict China and Africa’s relation as a sort of neo-colonial relationship.

    http://news.xinhuanet.com/english/indepth/2015-02/02/c_133963236.htm

    Commentary: The West’s baloney about China-Africa cooperation
    English.news.cn 2015-02-02 08:12:26 [More]

    by Xinhua Writer Wang Xiangjiang

    NAIROBI, Feb. 2 (Xinhua) — In recent years, the West has conjured up fantastic theories like “neocolonialism”, “China is exploiting Africa’s resources,” etc., effectively throwing mud at China over its win-win cooperation with Africa.

    These theories, however, have increasingly become unpopular as China and Africa have constantly expanded cooperation in terms of scope and content over the years to focus on building up Africa’s ability to sustain its own development and creating a win-win scenario.

    At the just concluded African Union summit in the Ethiopian capital, the world witnessed the birth of a “century document” detailing China-Africa cooperation on infrastructure projects across the African continent.

    Spanning nearly half a century and covering the entire African continent, this memorandum of understanding (MOU) has elevated China’s win-win relationship with Africa to a new height.

    While African leaders embraced the blueprint designed to improve Africa’s infrastructure, which has long been stifling economic growth, some Western media were obviously not happy about it.

    Floating terms like “concrete diplomacy”, “neocolonialism”, etc, they opted to be a jealousy kind who loathed being sidelined and conspired to drive a wedge between two partners who do not fear to work up a sweat for better future.

    “When the West labels Chinese aid and infrastructural projects in Africa as neocolonial, it is a question of sour grapes,” said Professor Munene Macharia, lecturer of international relations with Kenya-based United States International University.

    The notoriety of the West’s colonization in Africa, which lasted for hundreds of years dating back to the 15th century, is well-known to the world. Even today, Western powers, in particular those in western Europe separated from Africa only by the Mediterranean, cannot break out of a mentality to see Africa as their “backyard”.

    Long gone is the history of enslavement in Africa. But the ills of one-sided economic structure and backward infrastructure, left behind by Western colonizers, are not easily remedied. Today, Africa remains the only continent that has not realized industrialization. Its weak status in the global economy had roots in the colonial past.

    Nowadays, natural resources like oil, gas and minerals in many African countries are in fact controlled by Western powers, who have taken advantage of their dominant role in the global economic and trade order. On the other hand, Africa has gained little as it has long been treated by the West as a material supplier and market to dump industrial products.

    “The West is not happy that China is assisting Africa to overcome one of its biggest challenges that is faces today,” said Macharia. “The West has been in Africa for a long time but has never made development of Africa’s infrastructure as a priority.”

    “The Western nations only develop infrastructure in Africa that helped to ship Africa’s resources to the West,” said Dr. Gerishon Ikiara, lecturer of international economics with University of Nairobi, and ex-Permanent Secretary with Kenya’s Ministry of Transport and Communications.

    The West’s defamation will not eclipse China’s honesty and sincerity with African brothers. In a vivid description of the vision of cooperation with Africa, Chinese President Xi Jinping said that the phoenix will come if the nest is built and that teaching one to fish is better than giving him a fish.

    By tackling infrastructure, China and Africa have chosen to root out a bottleneck that has long checked Africa’s economic growth, and clear the way for Africa to promote self-sustained development and accelerate industrialization.

    As a Chinese saying goes, “wealth is not far away if roads are built”. China is willing to share with Africa the most valuable experience it has learned and has been practicing over the past 30- odd years of reform and opening up and rapid economic growth.

    Facts speak louder than words. China has long been helping Africa with infrastructure development and have completed 1,046 projects, built railways with the total length of 2,233 km and highways with the total length of 3,530 km in Africa, making tangible contributions to the improvement of living and working conditions in Africa.

    The acrimony and suspicion was obvious as certain Western media hyped up the so-called “concrete diplomacy” in an attempt to belittle China’s assistance with Africa in defusing the bottleneck and improving infrastructure.

    As the world’s second largest economy, China has become more sophisticated in dealing with such Western media hypes.

    “Some say that China is conducting ‘concrete diplomacy’ by helping Africa with infrastructure development. I believe that is what badly needed by Africa in pursuing economic growth,” Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Hua Chunying told a recent press briefing.

  18. Zack
    February 6th, 2015 at 19:44 | #18

    i reckon the problem isnt so much envy; it’s that these Western commentators, in their own arrogance, are simply unable to conceive of a relationship where both parties benefit and win equally, as opposed to one dominating and enslaving the other eg European and American colonization of the world.

  19. March 8th, 2015 at 10:05 | #19

    I think this article by Huiyun Feng at the Diplomat (http://thediplomat.com/2015/03/china-and-russia-vs-the-united-states/) is illuminating and even if people may not agree with everything said there, I think its general tenor is consistent with what is being said here.

    Keep up the good work everyone!

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