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Will Putin Allow China to Absorb Vladivostok?

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At the heart of contemporary geopolitics, where global power dynamics continually evolve, a quiet yet significant challenge to international norms and relationships is unfolding in the Far East of Russia. Here, in the border region of Primorsky Krai, a strategic and economically vibrant area, China’s growing influence and presence are becoming increasingly apparent and contentious. This development is not only a reflection of China’s broader global ambitions but also a potential flashpoint in its complex relationship with Russia, a nation with which it shares a professed “unlimited partnership.”

Note that China has not been afraid to step on the toes of its allies, dumping in Brazil, redrawing maps in the South China Sea and much more. While Russia and China appear to be staunch allies, and China has taken much of the sting away from the sanctions placed on Russia by the West, it is clear that China considers Russia to be the “junior” partner and feels free to bully them.

Primorsky Krai, with its administrative center in Vladivostok—a key military seaport and one of the most significant cities in Russia’s Far Eastern district—has become a focal point of Chinese interest. This interest is manifested through the influx of Chinese farmers into the region, an economic movement reported by sources such as Nikkei. These farmers, leveraging their growing economic power, have begun outcompeting local Russian agriculturalists, thereby raising significant concerns about the long-term implications for Russian sovereignty and economic independence in this area. We at ACZ suspect this is intentional on China’s part and the subsidies are furthering their interests.

The historical context deepens the intrigue. Primorsky Krai was ceded to Russia by the Qing dynasty in 1860, a period that marked the expansion of Russian influence in Asia. It was later absorbed back into the Soviet Union. However, recent moves by Beijing, including the decree to incorporate Haishenwai—the Chinese name for Vladivostok—and several other Far Eastern locations into Chinese maps, signal a bold and potentially provocative assertion of cultural and historical claims over this region. This act reflects a broader strategy under Chinese Leader Xi Jinping, paralleling Russian President Vladimir Putin’s own nationalistic endeavors, to reclaim territories perceived as lost.

The issue at hand extends beyond mere historical grievances or cultural assertions. The economic implications of China’s presence in Primorsky Krai are profound. A study published in The American Journal of Economics and Sociology outlines both the benefits and challenges posed by the presence of Chinese agricultural operations in the region. While some local farmers have seen their incomes grow, the overall impact includes increased land prices, reduced wages for Russian workers, and shifts in agricultural productivity that could disadvantage Russian agricultural practices over time.

Moreover, China’s economic entrenchment in Primorsky Krai comes against the backdrop of Russia’s increasing reliance on the Chinese yuan, a consequence of international sanctions and economic pressures stemming from Moscow’s actions on the global stage. This economic dependency is a double-edged sword, providing Russia with a buffer against Western sanctions but also potentially increasing Beijing’s leverage over Moscow, particularly in trade and international reserve currencies.

Such developments raise crucial questions about sovereignty, control, and the balance of power in the Sino-Russian relationship. The increasing use of the yuan, China’s currency, by Russia for trade settlements and as a component of its international reserves highlights a strategic dependency that could limit Moscow’s maneuverability in its foreign policy and economic decisions.

The situation in Primorsky Krai, therefore, is not merely a local or bilateral issue but a symbol of broader geopolitical shifts and strategies. It encapsulates the challenges facing states on the international stage as they navigate the complexities of sovereignty, economic independence, and strategic partnerships. For Russia, the growing Chinese presence in Primorsky Krai represents a dilemma—how to balance its strategic partnership with China against the need to maintain control over its own territory and economic future.

The quiet push by China into Russia’s Far East seems inappropriate given the strong alliance of recent years, but China’s confidence in it destiny as a world dominator could push this to the brink with Russia. But given Russia stubbornness and determination in keeping Crimea, it will not allow Vladivostok to leave its control. We at ACZ suspect this confrontation will simmer for quite a while as other world events unfold.

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