China’s threat to Russia’s Far East: Real or perceived?

The presidents of Russia and China pose at a youth center in Vladivostok
Sept. 12, 2018: Russian President Vladimir Putin (C-R) and Chinese President Xi Jinping (C-L) pose with young people from both countries at a summit in Vladivostok (source: dpa)
  • Polls show ordinary Russians view China as an ally despite its burgeoning power
  • Political elites see the Sino-Russian partnership as a means to offset Western pressure
  • The Kremlin wants more, not less, Chinese investment in Russia’s Far East

The Siberian and Far Eastern regions of Russia account for an incredible 66 percent of the largest country in the world. Combined, the Siberian Federal District and the Far Eastern Federal District are bigger than Canada, the world’s second-largest country. The regions east of the Urals produce almost 70 percent of Russia’s exports and, with the Arctic, account for 85 percent of its national resources.

Despite all this natural wealth, Siberia and the Russian Far East have slowly fallen behind the rest of the country in terms of economic and social development. Their current population is now just under 26 million, compared with almost 30 million in 1990. The incidence of poverty is almost 40 percent higher than the Russian average, while mortality rates and quality of life indicators are among the country’s worst.

The Far Eastern Federal District borders directly on China, Mongolia and North Korea to the south; the Siberian Federal District has a much shorter border with China and a very long one with Mongolia. These territories adjoin an emerging economic and political giant whose power and reach is growing rapidly.

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