Tags: Chinese | Russia's | Maritime | Region | Part

Chinese in Russia's Maritime Region, Part 1

Thursday, 17 January 2002 12:00 AM

Only one month ago, the authors published an article describing Chinese plans – so far only plans – in regard to the Russian Federation Republic of Yakutia and its natural resources. (See

However, another region of the Russian Far East (RFE), namely the Maritime Region, located between China's Heilongjiang Province to the west and the Sea of Japan to the east, has already become the object of a Chinese invasion. And this invasion, according to available data, has assumed an irreversible character.

One can claim without exaggeration that by 2001, this region, centered around Vladivostok and having an area of over 100,000 square kilometers and a population of about 2.15 million, was under de facto Chinese control, though formally it was still a part of Russia.

In the present article, the authors deliberately do not focus on the legal and illegal arms exports from the Maritime Region to China; this issue is the theme of a separate article.

The Chinese physical presence was rather high in the Maritime Region as early as 1995 (as shown in the book "Growth of China and the Future of the Eastern Regions of the USSR," published by one of the authors in 1996).

This presence greatly increased in 1997, when Heilongjiang province and the Maritime Region officially put into service the so-called Golden Road. This road includes a railway and highway, starting in Harbin (capital of Heilongjiang) and ending in Nakhodka, a Russian seaport some 100 km east of Vladivostok.

In more detail, the Golden Road takes the following route:

Harbin to Mudanjiang (some 250 km southeast of Harbin)

to Suifenhe (a Chinese border town 350 km southeast of Harbin)

to Pogranichnyi (a Russian border town 150 km north of Vladivostok)

to Ussuriysk (halfway between Pogranichnyi and Vladivostok)

to Artyom (50 km northwest of Vladivostok)

to Nakhodka.

This transportation corridor, which runs north of Vladivostok without passing through the city itself, connects landlocked Heilongjiang province, via the Maritime Region, with South Korea, North Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan.

In 1997, China transported over 100,000 tons of coal and other goods via this corridor. In 1998-2000, transport volume over the Golden Road greatly increased, probably surpassing 1 million tons annually. Simultaneously, China in effect established unopposed control over all of the Russian part of the Golden Road, i.e., over the Pogranichnyi-Ussuriysk-Artyom-Nakhodka transport corridor, about 300 km in length.

For example, in Ussuriysk, with a native population of about 100,000, the last large old-Soviet-style industrial enterprise – a refrigerator plant – closed down in 1996.

By 1997 almost all of the city's newly established businesses – markets, foreign trading companies, timber and transportation companies, and non-ferrous metal scrap facilities – were controlled by the Chinese, whose numbers in the city had reached several thousand.

One can even claim that Ussuriysk by 1997 had become a "Chinese city" – in the same way that Mandalay, in central Burma, had become a "Chinese city" by 1994. All other Russian towns along this transportation corridor by 1997-98 had become greatly dependent on economic cooperation with China, especially servicing of Chinese transportation and trade. If there were some problems with the local authorities – who were very corrupt – the Chinese side easily resolved them with bribes.

So, by 1998 China had established its control – informal but effective – over the Russian stretches of the Golden Road. Russia's financial default in August 1998 promoted and solidified this process: Western consumer goods became too expensive, so the people of the Maritime Region were forced to switch entirely to the relatively inexpensive Chinese goods. As a result, the number of Chinese traders in the Maritime Region ballooned.

For example, by 2000 the "Chinese bazaar" – open "24/7" – in Ussuriysk looked like a separate town. Some 2,000 Chinese traders lived semi-permanently in metal freight containers, but their handsome earnings compensated for this discomfort.

The Chinese had their own restaurants, a sauna and even a casino. And these "permanent traders" made up only a fraction of the total number of Chinese in Ussuriysk at any given moment.

One can estimate the number of Chinese by late 2001 in Ussuriysk alone – including permanent traders, "traveling traders," family members, scrap metal dealers, criminals and illegals of all kinds – as between 6,000 and 8,000. And the total number of Chinese along the Pogranichnyi-Nakhodka transport corridor in 2000-2001 can be estimated at several tens of thousands.

An article in the Feb. 5, 2000, issue of the Russian newspaper Nezavisimaya gazeta states that by early 20000 the number of Russian citizens in the district centered around Pogranichny was 35,000, while the number of Chinese in this district approached 25,000. Is this situation not an example of de facto occupation?

Based on the transport corridor, China by 2000 managed to establish true economic control over most of the Maritime Region – between the North Korean border to the south and the neighboring Khabarovsk Region of Russia to the north.

Numerous Western media reports from Vladivostok in 2000-2001 say that the local Russians were in a panic over the prospect of a Chinese takeover. The jarring scene painted in one such report – "The Chinese have spread like jellyfish, penetrating everywhere, and gradually you find that without a shot being fired, they've simply taken over" – had become the prevailing story in the Maritime Region.

China is flexing its economic muscle in the RFE, and, as the local Russians in the RFE fear, the next stage – China's demographic takeover – is not far off.

Such depictions are not limited to Russian newspapers. As an article in one British paper from December 2000 states, "Nowadays, Chinese is spoken everywhere in Vladivostok. In the past 10 years, traders from across the border have poured in, finding an eager market for the cheap consumer goods that Russian industry has never been able to supply.

"Families in the region, where an average salary can be as low as 30 pounds a month, wear nothing but Chinese clothes. In Vladivostok, hotels depend heavily on tourists from over the border, and the new Chinese restaurants do good business. Yet almost no one has a good word for the Chinese. ‘They behave as though they own the town. … Russia is not strong; there is a threat that we will lose this territory.'"

(to be continued in Part 2)

Dr. Thomas J. Torda has been a Chinese linguist specializing in science and technology with FBIS, and a Chinese/Russian defense technology consultant with the Office of Naval Intelligence.

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Only one month ago, the authors published an article describing Chinese plans - so far only plans - in regard to the Russian Federation Republic of Yakutia and its natural resources. (See However, another region of the Russian Far East (RFE), namely the Maritime Region,...
Thursday, 17 January 2002 12:00 AM
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