Wishful thinking: China wants to conquer Russia’s Far East
While Xi Jinping repeatedly emphasizes the importance of the Sino-Russian axis for a multipolar world, which SCO, BRI, BRICS and whatever is useful for it, he rejected the use of Russian nuclear weapons, a number of Western experts are now hoping for China to play a mediating role in the Ukraine war, especially after the Xi-Biden meeting at the G20 Bali summit, which appears to have achieved some temporary easing in Sino-American tensions. But it gets crazy now when such nonsense is spread that China would now use the weakness of Russia to bring the Russian Far East including Vladivostok back home to the Middle Kingdom due to unequal treaties, territorial claims that never expire, maybe even militarily. While before some fractions in the USA, Germany and Europe, above all John Mearsheimer, thought that Russia could be brought to a neutral position in the event of a possible showdown between the USA and China over Taiwan or the Indo-Pacific, as did the recently dumped German Vice Admiral Bundeswehr Schönbaum, there seem to be idiots who believe that China can be turned against Russia, especially in the Far East, or vice versa, Russia against China again due to a Chinese threat to Russia, which is now being exaggerated by various forces:
“China is arming itself, Russia is weakening: Putin threatens to lose Vladivostok
The Ukraine war has weakened Russia. Will Beijing seize the moment and take back Vladivostok? Some people in China have been asking for this for years.
Munich/Vladivostok/Beijing – Advertising can sometimes backfire, even in China. At the end of April, a Russian tourism organization advertised the culinary delights of the city of Vladivostok on China’s social network Weibo. The Pacific metropolis in Russia’s far east was recently voted one of the country’s gourmet capitals, the post read. Pictures of caviar, fish and other sea creatures should prove this. But instead of whet the appetite of Weibo users, it rained down nasty comments. „Give us back our land,“ wrote one user. Another demanded: “They killed my countrymen and occupied our country. The Russians must be punished!” And a third user simply posted a knife emoji.
The belief that the city of Vladivostok and other areas in eastern Russia are actually a part of China is deeply rooted in the Chinese population. There are repeated calls on China’s social networks to invade the neighboring country and take back lands „stolen“ by Russia. These are demands that have become more explosive in light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The history of the People’s Republic of China from 1949 to the present China’s claims to Russian territories have a long history China’s claims to Vladivostok and other areas of eastern Russia date back to the mid-19th century, a period that is deeply engraved in China’s historical memory as an era of deep humiliation. At that time, British traders had made large parts of the population of the Qing Empire dependent on opium from their Indian colonies. When the Chinese government began to resist and had tons of opium destroyed, Great Britain reacted with punitive action, which culminated in the first Opium War (1839-1842). The Chinese empire, completely defeated, had little to oppose the advanced weapons of the British and finally suffered a devastating defeat. In the Treaty of Nanking, a weakened China was forced to open several cities to trade with the United Kingdom and cede the island of Hong Kong to the British. After the second Opium War (1856-1860), which the British, together with France, had launched under a pretext, they not only reduced the imperial summer palace in Beijing to rubble. But they also urged the Chinese to make further concessions.
This is where Russia comes in: the tsarist empire intervened early on in the war, on the side of the western powers and against its Chinese neighbors. When China lost that war as well, the Russians saw their chance – and grabbed areas three times the size of Germany in China’s north-east. The land grab was sealed in two “unequal” contracts that China had to sign with grudging teeth. Even a provincial town, which the Chinese called Haishenwai – “sea cucumber bay” – was suddenly Russian. The new masters gave the place a name that was intended to underline their claims to power: „Rule the East“ – in Russian: Vladivostok. Are China’s territorial claims really off the table? The „century of humiliations“ that began with the opium wars only ended in 1949 with the founding of the People’s Republic of China and left deep wounds in the collective consciousness of the Chinese. Some of these wounds have now healed, above all the return of the former British crown colony of Hong Kong to China 25 years ago was balm for the Chinese people’s soul. From the point of view of many Chinese, however, the Russia question is still open. „It would be naïve to expect the Chinese public to forget the role of the Russian Empire in the plundering of China,“ China expert Una Aleksandra Bērziņa-Čerenkova from the Stradins University in Riga, Latvia, told IPPEN.MEDIA’s Munich Merkur.
For decades there had been repeated disputes about the exact course of the more than 4,000 km long border between the two countries, which even culminated in a military conflict in 1969. Bērziņa-Čerenkova, however, points out that today there are no Chinese territorial claims against Russia. In July 2001, Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s then head of state and party, Jiang Zemin, signed a treaty of friendship in Moscow, in which the waiver of any claims was expressly stated. Only two years later, however, China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping stipulated that several Russian cities must be labeled with their Chinese names on official maps – i.e. Haishenwai instead of Vladivostok. Apparently, even Beijing does not want to accept that the city is Russian today.
“China is arming itself – Russia is weakening
Security expert Jan Kallberg believes that Chinese territorial claims are far from off the table. „The Chinese Communist Party has a long memory,“ writes Kallberg in an article for the US think tank Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA). China has repeatedly held up the British or the Japanese for their colonial history in China. It seems hard to believe that Russia of all places will get a “free pass”. China is still working together with the Russians to form an alliance against the global hegemony of the USA and other western democracies and to obtain cheap oil and gas from Putin’s huge empire. In the long term, however, Russia is on the decline. „If current trends continue, China can expect its old territories to fall into its lap one day,“ says Kallberg. „For now, Vladivostok can continue to exist under the Russian flag, knowing that one day it will most likely become Haishenwai again.“
China expert Bērziņa-Čerenkova, on the other hand, does not believe that the People’s Republic will take advantage of Russia’s weakness. After all, the country is already involved in enough territorial disputes, for example in the South China Sea, where China is in dispute with other countries in the region over a number of islands and atolls. „It would be a serious miscalculation to open another front,“ she says. At the same time, however, China is arming itself massively militarily. According to the Swedish peace research institute SIPRI, Beijing spent an estimated US$293 billion on its People’s Liberation Army in 2021, 4.7 percent more than the year before. Russia also massively upgraded in 2021, spending an estimated $63.5 billion on its military at the time. Since then, however, the Ukraine war has led to massive casualties in Russia’s army; the country has probably lost tens of thousands of soldiers and masses of war equipment. According to the US in its current security strategy, China is “the only competitor that both intends to reshape the international order and increasingly has the economic, diplomatic, military and technological power to do so”. China’s head of state emphasizes „rock-solid“ friendship with Russia Beijing’s state media are not taking up the demands of many citizens to get back the areas that were once stolen. On the Internet, however, China’s otherwise vigilant censors sometimes allow heated debates over territorial claims. Perhaps because the nationalism that goes with it fits in very well with the general political climate. By 2049, the 100th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic, China wants to be a great power again. According to most experts, Beijing wants to resolve the Taiwan issue by then, if necessary using military force. And the humiliations of the past should finally be a thing of the past. This is another reason why Beijing’s propaganda machine keeps fueling campaigns against former colonial powers like Japan.
In the case of Russia, the Chinese government’s invoked nationalism could yet fall on its toes. She may be forced to give in to demands to reclaim the lost territories. Especially since Russia is currently providing the blueprint for this, with Putin selling his people the attack on Ukraine as a historic mission: Russia, according to Putin, is only taking back what belongs to it anyway. Will a similar decision be made in Beijing one day? Head of state and party leader Xi Jinping is still emphasizing the „rock-solid friendship“ between China and Russia and is standing closely with the Kremlin, including in the Ukraine war. Beijing has not yet condemned the Russian attack; At the recent G20 summit in Bali, China only deviated from its tough position by a millimeter. China invests in Russia’s east Maybe people in Beijing are hoping that the conflict with Russia will eventually resolve itself. Not because Moscow will one day return the disputed areas to China – but because enterprising Chinese are already creating facts. China’s state-owned companies are building railway lines and roads in eastern Russia or leasing hundreds of thousands of hectares of land in eastern Siberia to grow grain and soybeans for people across the border. It is estimated that Russia could produce food for an additional 450 million people if it used all of its arable land. It is a gigantic potential that arouses desires in China. Around 20 percent of the world’s population lives in the People’s Republic, but only nine percent of the world’s cultivated area is located there.
Hundreds of thousands of Chinese migrant workers are believed to be living in eastern Siberia today. At the same time, the local population is shrinking, as more and more Russians are moving to the economically stronger west of the country. In Russia’s east – on an area that makes up a third of the landmass of the huge empire – there are just about as many people as in the capital Moscow, and the number is falling. For comparison: Around 32 million people live in the Chinese border province of Heilongjiang alone. Vladimir Putin seems to let his overpowering neighbors do as he pleases. This creeping conquest, however, annoys many in Russia. A few years ago, the Kremlin-critical journalist Alexander Sotnik summed up what many of his compatriots secretly think: „Vladivostok is practically already Chinese.“
China expert Professor van Ess comented:
“The Chinese don’t usually break contracts that easily. The last sentence is crucial: migration has changed the status of this area. When the Russians signed the treaties with the Manchurian Empire in 1858 and 1860, they did so voluntarily because they did not want a second front in the north. They ceded largely deserted land that was so cold that even the local Manchurians (there were no Han Chinese) no longer wanted to live there. Of course, climate change is now making the country more attractive, but China will not burden itself with this problem, although migration, of course, no longer works as it used to for demographic reasons.”
The former military advisor to Merkel, General ret. Vad, also said:
„The „unequal contracts“ are already an informal topic of Chinese politics. One should not underestimate that. The Chinese are „conquering“ Siberia with millions of compatriots settling there. Perhaps the method of taking space is more efficient than coming up with an army? I’m also not sure anymore whether people in Europe will still be talking about the „Christian Occident“ in a few years‘ time….“
Probably after all these are rather wet dreams of a Latvian „China expert“ who is now hoping for a second front against Russia and Putin in order to finish him off forever and to hope that the state of the Russian Federation will collapse with China’s help. That can happen in a few decades and at the end of a development, especially since it is also uncertain whether the Chinese want to occupy the country with the military at all. Taiwan and the South China Sea remain top priorities. But at some point in the future there will also be a revision of the unequal treaties in this matter, but that will only be the case when Russia collapses, and the CP China is no longer able to use it as an ally, but not before. So: distant and “Far” future just like Far East. In the opposite case, Russian Asian pivot ideologues of the Kremlin like Karaganov would be at the end of their dreams in the direction of Europe as well as in Asia or Eurasia. Nothing is going to happen with Putin after the Ukraine war, only if he were swept away and a new Russian leadership were trying to get closer to the West, which is pretty utopian at first or would allow the West Russian support against China or neutrality or an alliance against China . In earlier days of the honeymoon there were also discussiosn as to whether Russia would join NATO, in which case NATO would have bordered China and Central Asia, but what interest and what capacity would NATO still have in order to secure or to protect these gigantic areas without boots on the ground command. And the USA neverliked the idea of another nuclear superpower in its US-led military alliance. Total utopia. At best, a core Russia will emerge that wants to reintegrate and subjugate itself as a nuclear regional power. BUt neither Putin nor possibly other siloviki successors want that, and it is also uncertain whether the so-called democratic opposition will accept this role as a regional power.Maybe Nawalsky could become a Russian Trump and Russia first leader. It is more likely that the USA, the Eastern Europeans including NATO, will put up an Iron Curtain with military bases and forward defense along the Baltic States via Poland to the (rest of) Ukraine, the NATO-Russia Founding Act will be terminated, the whole of NATO switch to the east and north, with an uncertain southern flank around Erdogan Turkey, Poland and the East Europeans will become the leading powers and preferred US ally within NATO and the European Weimar Triangle due to their lack of a geographically middle position, but will now be in a front position and their willingness to rearmament and defense and to stick to NATO´s 2% target will strenghten heir position. Especially since the Eastern Europeans also want a new European security architecture without Russia, while the USA still has its doubts about Germany, which is still unreliable in this regard. In an emergency, if there is no longer a Putin-Russia or a similar successor Russia as an ally, China will have to rely primarily on its own forces and look for allies in Asia and the Global South, perhaps also have to adopt a different policy towards India or then postpone his demands in the hope of a US-Chinese Detente. But it’s still a long way from that, and Xi is sticking with Putin to the bitter end.