Russians wary of land deals with China

Plans of the local authorities of Russia’s Far Eastern Zabaikalsky (Transbaikal) region to allow Chinese firms to rent sizeable plots of unused land entailed nationwide debates. These controversial land lease plans appeared to revive Russia’s fears of the ‘yellow threat,’ perceived Chinese intentions to swallow vast under-populated areas in the Russian Far East and Southern Siberia.

The proposed influx of Chinese workers may render many people of Zabaikalsky region  jobless

The proposed influx of Chinese workers may render many people of Zabaikalsky region jobless

Earlier this month, the authorities of Zabaikalsky region signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with China’s Huae Xingbang, a subsidiary of Zoje Resources Investment. The MOU envisages the lease of 115,000 hectares of unused land at 250 rubles ($4.6) per hectare in Nerchinsko-Zavodskoy, Uletovsky, Sretensky and Shilkinsly districts for 49 years.

Chinese investors reportedly pledged to invest 24 billion rubles ($438 million) to develop agricultural businesses relying on Chinese workforce there. The MOU also envisages the subsequent lease of 200,000 hectares if the first project proves a success.

The plan, notably the proposed massive influx of Chinese workers, entailed vocal protests in Russia, including a series of online petitions demanding to annul the would-be-deal.

Politicians in Moscow also did not remain silent. On June 22, the nationalist Liberal-Democratic Party (LDPR) warned of risks renting land in under-populated Zabaikalsky region to companies from neighboring and overpopulated China. There are no guarantees that the Chinese workers could not be naturalized, then become a majority and seize power in these regions in 20-30 years, said Igor Lebedev, vice-speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of parliament, representing LDPR. They could proclaim these lands to be China’s territory eventually, he said.

The Kremlin has refrained from comments on the proposed deal. However, on June 24 the Russian Agriculture Ministry said the deal was not approved by the ministry’s officials.

Facing increasing criticism, the local authorities defended themselves. On June 22, Zabaikalsky region governor Konstantin Ilkovsky said in televised remarks that no binding agreement was concluded with Chinese firms. There were only mutual exchanges of intentions, Ilkovsky said.

In contract, other local officials in the Russian Far East pledged to refrain from controversial land lease transactions. On June 23, the economy minister of Yakutiya region Valery Maximov pledged not to sign land lease agreements with Chinese businesses.

Zabaikalsky regional authorities appeared to review their plans. On June 25, Ilkovsky said the land lease agreement could be reviewed from 49 years down to 25 years. However, he still insisted that the planned deal was fully legal and no discussion on it at the federal level was required.

The would-be land lease deal apparently served to revive old fears of the “yellow threat” in the Russian Far East. Notably, Viktor Ishayev, head Khabarovsk regional government in 1991-2009, and then presidential envoy in Far Eastern regions, voiced similar concerns more than a decade ago. In early 2000s, he vocally complained that Chinese maps allegedly painted vast areas of the Russian Far East “in Chinese colors”. Ishayev warned of the perceived “yellow threat” and speculated that China was considering the annexation of the Russian territory.

However, in 2003 President Vladimir Putin strongly dismissed Ishayev’s concerns. Subsequently, Ishayev and other local politicians refrained from the “yellow threat” wording and did not mention perceived Chinese plans to take over Russian lands.

More recently, similar fears resurfaced in Moscow. In August 2012, then President Dmitry Medvedev urged to protect the country’s Far Eastern regions from what he described as excessive migration inflows of foreign nationals.

Meanwhile, in the past two years the Ukrainian crisis and subsequent rift with the West forced the Kremlin to prioritize its “strategic partnership” with China. The Kremlin’s silence on the proposed land lease deal arguably indicates reluctance to antagonize China, despite some domestic discontent.

(Copyright 2015 Asia Times Holdings Limited, a duly registered Hong Kong company. All rights reserved. Please contact us about sales, syndication and republishing.)



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  • d.g.summers

    Is Asia Times Online a shill for China?
    If so, it’s not a good one.

  • China Lee

    Russia has five neighbors. It has to decide who it wants to do business with.

    1. Europe (imposed sanctions on Russia)
    2. China
    3. US/Alaska (imposed sanctions on Russia)
    4. Canada (imposed sanctions on Russia)
    5. Japan (imposed sanctions on Russia)

    Hmmm…it doesn’t look like Russia has much choice. Stop being so picky. If you can’t do a simple deal, the more complex business deals will never follow.

  • bob

    “Stop being so picky” — Lee, hope you see that the author of the article DOESN’T represent Russian government neither Russian people. He is expressing HIS personal opinion. Nothing more.

  • Mr. Bernard Wijeyasingha

    The article addresses a real concern stated by the Russian people and government. What the article does not state is whether China would make such a decision that would work against her with her most important ally? Would China “push’ Russia to Naturalize Chinese citizens in Russia if the long term goal would back fire on China? what about Russia? would Moscow allow China that much leverage on her lands? I am sure concerns will come up between both nations, and they should, since that is the only way an alliance survives. Concerns are addressed to the benefit of the alliance.

  • ModernChinese

    For any business deal to be viable, the potential partners need to evaluate all pros and cons of the deal. Russian government, besides the overall economic and state security considerations needs to SERIOUSLY considers the desires/needs of the Russian Far East local residents.

    For too long, the Russian government in Moscow neglects and overlooks the well-fairs of the Far East region, asides from exploiting its natural resources, sold for hard currency, and transferred the proceeds back to Moscow. The desolated economy of and the outflow of people from Far East are the obvious evidence of this misguided Russian policy.

    Now, in light of the evermore crippling Western economic sanctions against Russia, the Russian government has even less resource, and hope, to develop this region economically. The desperate people in this area realize that the only thin ray of hope for them to ever improve their life is to rely on the Chinese investment, man power, and enormous consumer market. Leasing land is the only one of a very few options that they have.

    On the other hand, they can NOT expect Chinese to invest their money and human resources in their local economy, AND at the same time do not offer them some favorable benefits – the Chinese are no longer the cheap slave labor as they were hundred years ago! China IS the largest economy in the world and the middle class is as big as the whole population of USA. The Russian locals need and ask for Chinese help, not the other way around.

    When Chinese money talks, listen and cooperate. That is the only win-win approach for mutual benefits.

    Otherwise, just say “Nyet!” and keep more blanket to warm yourselves in the long, dark, and frigid Siberia night!

  • bob

    “keep more blankets” ??? let me ask you, got a bit offended by the article? may be?

  • Athar Basit

    If the whole world understand the strategic benefits of doing business with China why wouldn’t Russia

  • Bussiness with the Han? Of course not! These sneaky greedy Han probably stab anyone in the back with any chances they get.

  • China Lee

    China conducts about $500 billion in business with the EU and the United States each. China is very business-friendly.

  • Rafasa Arandas

    Most Chinese and Russian people even today do not like or trust one another, far too much bitter history and lack of common ethnic / cultural background between the two.

  • ModernChinese

    Respect is two-way traffic. Do you agree?

  • bob

    Yes absolutely.
    I hope you’ll agree that most of journalists will write anything for the money. By writing articles like this one, they can create an image of disrespect or hate. This is what mass media around the world was doing for ages.
    Hope you will be able to take these and the other “true story” articles for what they are, just somebody’s private (or sometimes distorted) view of reality.


  • ModernChinese

    I appreciate your objective observation, and I can assure you that I’m VERY familiar with the for-hired journalists from the West: they are NOTHING but the prostitutes of the Western subversive propaganda machine.

    However, it’s exactly because of these 2-cent Western “journalists”, the well-read and educated people need to expose them EVERY time they show their ugly lies and distorted misinformation on the global communication network.

    The Russian themselves need to change their mentality as well to the geopolitical shift: only when Russia and China working together, back-to-back, as a solid/united forces to preserve peace in Eurasia, then there will be peace in these continents.

    Mr. Putin, with due respect, had wasted 8 years of his first presidency on courting the European “partners” for Russia’s integration, just to suffered time and again the humiliation and insults thrown at his face. Those European robbers want NOTHING to do with “drunken Russians”, they only desire to have the Russian natural resources for cheap.


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