Many analysts have speculated on China's powerful long-range ambitions, both within and outside its immediate sphere of influence.
Not surprisingly, the Chinese themselves have kept their cards close to the chest, to avoid raising too many alarm bells among prospective rivals and to thwart efforts that might undermine more immediate objectives, including the push to achieve self-sustaining economic momentum.
Nonetheless, it would be difficult for any country that apparently sees itself as the sole-superpower-in-waiting to maintain a "poker face" for too long. In fact, a recent post by Paul Goble at WindowonEurasia, "Chinese Bestseller Has Russian Far East Falling under Beijing’s Influence," reveals a degree of nationalistic exuberance in China that many outsiders might find shocking.
A new Chinese bestselling book suggesting that Beijing will dominate the Russian Far East in the coming decades has raised questions among Russian experts not only about how much this book reflects official thinking in China but also about what the Russian government can and should consider doing to counter such an outcome.
The book entitled “China Gets Angry” has sold some 700,000 copies since its release three months ago, “Komsomolskaya Pravda” reports today. Written by five Chinese intellectuals, the book’s basic message is that China is destined to be the leader of the world and does not need to kowtow to anyone (www.kp.ru/daily/24313/506551/).
In discussing Russia, the book talks about it as “a living space” for the still growing Chinese people, and it pointedly suggests that “sober-thinking Chinese need to get rid of any doubt on this point: sooner or later we will be” in Siberia and the Russian Far East developing the vast areas that Moscow has not.
To assess this book, its implications of its argument for Russia, and whether Moscow has the time necessary to change course, “Komsomolskaya Pravda” turned to Vil’ Gel’bras, a longtime and internationally recognized Russian specialist on China who works at Moscow State University’s Institute of Asian and African countries.
Gel’bras, for his part, said Beijing’s interest in Russian territories east of the Urals was hardly surprising given the imbalance of population and agricultural land in China. For the 900 million peasants of China, there are only about 120 million hectares of land, approximately 0.13 per agricultural laborer. In Russia, on the other hand, there are 2.5 hectares per rural worker.
In addition to that reason to look north, Chinese demographic policy also is playing a role. Because of Beijing’s one child policy and the preference Chinese parents have for boys, the Russian sinologist says, the number of Chinese men will be 30 million greater than the number of Chinese women by 2015.
Asked by the paper where they will look for mates, Gel’bras responded with a question of his own “Haven’t you guessed already?”
All of this is a matter of concern, Gel’bras says. But he says that he “does not believe that [the Chinese] at the official level are thinking up any serious actions against [Russians].” They have “more than sufficient internal problems” – including unemployment – to occupy themselves at the present time.
But the Moscow China specialist continues, “the powers that be in China are not going to interview with the development of nationalist ideas like those contained in the book.” Indeed, he says, they have every reason to do so at the present time: such ideas expressed so bluntly “distract the people from the crisis.”
In response to a query as to how far the book expresses the views of officials, Gel’bras says that on the one hand, the book could not have been published if the authorities did not have a certain sympathy for its ideas. And on the other, he quotes Dun Tsin, the editor of “Jenmin Jibao,” as having expressed similar views.
In a recent article, Dun wrote that “in the final analysis, China apparently is preparing to subject the Russian Far East to its fundamental influence but in such a way that it will not cause Moscow nervousness. This influence will be based not on the enormous influx of Chinese settlers but on the not foreseen before ‘sinification’ of Russians.”
And the Chinese editor continued, “one fine day a serious crisis will arise, and in the face of the weakening political and military influence of Moscow, these Russians possibly will prefer to make the choice in favor of Beijing and not of their own government. In such a hypothetical situation, the Russian Far Eastern region possibly will become a province of China.”
According to Gel’bras, the Chinese are working in this direction already, offering Russian specialists “favorable conditions to acquire residences,” to study the Chinese language, and to work normally. And he adds, “many Far Easterners, cut off from Moscow, already are adapting themselves to these programs.”
Beijing’s approach which also involves the construction of highways and other infrastructure up to the Russian border and into Central Asia, something the Russian government has not done on its side of the line. And as a result, the Chinese are simply exploiting Moscow’s failures in this and other areas.
Looking out five to ten years, Gel’bras sees little reason for optimism from a Russian perspective, although he suggests “it is possible that [Russians] will yet change their approach … if of course [they] do not want to lose a sixth of the area of the country” through the quiet expansion of China that the bestselling book there suggests.
The Russian military has often played up the Chinese threat as have some Russian nationalists and residents of the Far East seeking investment from the center, but the statement of Gel’bras is more disturbing than any of their writings precisely because it is so calm and matter of fact about something that most Russians and many others would see as a huge tragedy.