Analysis: Russia's Far East Turning Chinese

ByABC News
August 4, 2000, 4:57 PM

July 14 -- The Chinese are invading Russia not with tanks, but with suitcases.

Alexander Shaikin, in charge of controlling the Russian-Chinese border, said on June 29 that 1.5 million people from China have illegally entered the Russian Far East over the past 18 months.

Reported by The Moscow Times, Shaikins claim is likely exaggerated, but increased Chinese migration is marking a return of Chinese influence to these territories. And any territorial dispute could disrupt relations between Asias largest continental powers.

Its impossible to know the exact level of Chinese migration into the Russian Far East; Russia has not run a census in over a decade. But by all indications, a significant river of people is surging across the border.

The Moscow Carnegie Center, the only organization to launch an independent study, claimed that there were about 250,000 Chinese in Russia in 1997. The Interior Ministry has claimed that there are 2 million. Other estimates place the Chinese population at 5 million.

Regardless, the Federal Migration Service fears a flood. The service has repeatedly warned that the Chinese could become the dominant ethnic group in the Russian Far East in 20 to 30 years. Such an occurrence would require an annual influx of about 250,000 to 300,000 Chinese, less than one-third the rate that Shaikin currently claims.

China Looks the Other Way

There are reasons to believe that the flow will hit these levels, with at least tacit help from Beijing. The Russian Far East is becoming Chinas safety valve, much like Mexico lets off population pressures with migration into the United States. China has more than 1.2 billion people more than eight times Russias population. Only 7.4 million Russians populate the entire Russian Far East, versus more than 70 million in northeast China. The Russian Far East is comparatively empty, with only 1.3 people per kilometer. Chinas Manchurian population has increased 13 percent in a little more than a decade.