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While Russia Emphasizes Rivalry With West, China Also Stirs Fear

Prime Minister Dimitry Medvedev expressed his fear of foreign - meaning Chinese - enclaves on Russian soil.
By Amiel Ungar
First Publish: 8/13/2012, 5:34 AM

Medvedev has a problem
Medvedev has a problem
Reuters

Russia under Vladimir Putin has more frequently emphasized rivalry with the United States. Russia by 2020 is going to beef up its air force by $720 billion worth of new equipment as part of that rivalry. Yet, every now and then the leadership lets slip its concern about the Russian Chinese border.

Less than 1/5 of Russia's population resides in its Asian regions that constitute two thirds of its territory. In the borderlands, there are 19 Chinese per square kilometer for each Russian. Additionally, China's population is growing and Russia's population is still shrinking.

Over the weekend, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev talked of protecting "our far Eastern territories from excessive expansion from neighboring states." He was not talking about the Mongolians. Chinese migration to Russia, including illegal immigration, has been estimated at from 300,000 to 1,000,000 people and the very fact that there are no really hard figures attests to Russia's problems.

Speaking about the Far East, Medvedev lamented the fact that the "Far East really is far away. Not too many people live there unfortunately." This invited illegal migration and therefore Medvedev warns against the "negative development" of 'foreign citizen enclaves." Russia's attempts to control the process has led to ethnic conflict in such far Eastern cities as Vladivostok

In 2009, Medvedev - then Russia's president - had a meeting with Chinese President Hu Jintao and the two reached an agreement under which China would develop the Russian Far East region and thus obtain access to natural resources. The development of the region would then make it most attractive for Russians to relocate there, thus alleviating fears of a Chinese takeover of the region. The Chinese would use a predominantly Chinese workforce, but these would be on temporary visas and would then leave once the work had finished. This program, if successful, would have killed two birds with one stone.

The fact that Medvedev, now Prime Minister, is sounding the same alarms voiced 10 years ago, demonstrates that the plan has not worked out as expected and Russia still has a major problem on its hands.