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Russian experts say China’s expansion in Russia a myth

Russia is going to lease out to China 115,000 hectares of land for a term of 49 years

MOSCOW, June 17. /TASS /. Despite active efforts Russia and China are taking to develop closer relations and mutually advantageous cooperation, the fears of the so-called Chinese expansion are still strong in some part of Russian society. But China is not going to seize Russian lands and the Chinese expansion is a myth, both officials and experts say.

The authorities of Russia’s Trans-Baikal Territory in East Siberia announced about their decision in mid-June to sign a letter of intent with China’s Huae Sinban on leasing out a total of 115,000 hectares of land for a term of 49 years.

The Chinese company intends to use the land to grow rapeseed and other agricultural crops. The Chinese company is expected to invest about 24 billion rubles (about $500 million) in the project. If the Chinese investor’s work is successful in the first three years, the Trans-Baikal authorities will transfer another 200,000 hectares of land for lease.

This news caused an uproar in some Russia media. The information was spread by several radio stations and web portals. The comments they gave claimed that "China’s creeping expansion in Russia has begun" and "the Motherland is being sold out piece by piece."

Meanwhile, Chinese investors have long been developing Siberian and Far Eastern lands. Back in late 2009, Russia’s then-President Dmitry Medvedev and China’s leader Hu Jintao approved the programs of cooperation between the bordering regions of Russia and China for 2009-2018. After this, the transfer of idle lands to Chinese businessmen for lease has become quite a widespread practice.

For example, Chinese farmers are holding about 426,600 hectares of land on lease in the Jewish Autonomous Area and the Khabarovsk Territory to grow soybeans, rice and vegetables. The local authorities do not see any problems with this business so far: a total of 2,500 Chinese farmers have been involved in the cultivation of these lands in the past few years and no one has applied for Russian citizenship over this time.

The Chinese expansion "is a very common myth," Russia’s Far East Development Minister Alexander Galushka said. "You need to visit the Far East more frequently," Russian daily Rossiiskaya Gazeta quoted the minister as saying. "When you the visit the region more frequently, you find out that you encounter Chinese nationals very seldom," he said.

Today a total of just 6,000 immigrants from China live in the entire Krasnoyarsk Territory, a huge region in the Russian Far East, while seasonal workers number 20,000, according to data of the Chinese community in Krasnoyarsk.

"Of course, Russia should not forget about its economic interests while implementing joint projects with China," Senior Researcher at the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies Vasily Kashin said.

"But there are no signs that China has a devilish plan of territorial expansion and it has no grounds for this. This would not have resolved the problems faced by the country but would have been fraught with serious risks," the expert said.

On the contrary, China is interested in close cooperation with Russia, he added. As for the Chinese living in the Russian Far East and Siberia, "their number is considerably smaller than the number of Tajiks or Uzbeks."

"There are fears of irrational nature about China in society," Head of the Department of Oriental Studies at the Higher School of Economics Alexey Maslov said.

"China is perceived in Russian consciousness as something alien and different compared with western culture. Besides, China is developing so swiftly that many Russians fear that it may suppress Russia," the expert said.

Also, the level of the coverage of Chinese problems and Russian-Chinese relations by Russia’s media is frequently very low, he added.

"Let’s take the story with the lease of land in the Trans-Baikal Territory. First of all, only a letter of intent was signed and no decision has been made. Secondly, no one reports that Russian nationals will constitute 70% of the project’s workforce. The media also does not report that China possesses some of the world’s most advanced agricultural technologies and could help Russia in this respect," the expert said.

TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors

TASS may not share the opinions of its contributors