Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Residents Of Russian Far East Protest Chinese Presence

This is something of a flashpoint in a slow simmering resentment of what the locals view as Chinese encroachment. And Moscow seems oblivious. See links below for the big picture.

From AFP via the Taipei Times, March 17:

Siberians furious over Chinese bottling plant
A China-funded project to bottle water from Russia’s Lake Baikal has caused a backlash in Siberia, where people are increasingly angry about what they see as a Chinese land grab.

Ecologists and local authorities have previously touted bottling the water of the world’s largest lake as a “green” way of profiting from Siberia’s natural resources, but a petition calling on Russian “patriots” to demand the removal of an under-construction “Chinese plant on the shores of our Lake Baikal” has gathered almost 1 million signatures.

The water “will be shipped to China,” the petition says, warning that the facility would block local access to the lake and “inflict irreparable damage” to the UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The campaign to shut down the project has spread across social media in recent months without involvement by major environmental non-governmental organizations.

The plant was already under construction on the southern tip of the lake, which holds one-fifth of the planet’s fresh water, but on Friday, following the backlash, a Russian court ordered that building work be halted until complaints of violations could be investigated.

The company building the plant, previously lauded by the regional government, said that it was surprised by the criticism.

The plant in question, in the village of Kultuk, is built by AkvaSib, a Russian company, which had plans to start production later this year.

However, the financial backing comes from a company called “Baikal Lake” based in Daqing in China’s Heilongjiang Province, Irkutsk authorities said in a statement in 2017, when they gave the US$21 million project priority status.

AkvaSib representative Alexei Azarov said that the project passed through necessary hearings and was given the green light after an environmental assessment....

Here's February's Siberia As Breadbasket For China with some of the backistory:

China has been eyeing their neighbor to the north based on some revanchist claims to the land for 160 years.
Here is part of the Chinese pitch from a few years ago as verbalized by the New York Times:

...The border, all 2,738 miles of it, is the legacy of the Convention of Peking of 1860 and other unequal pacts between a strong, expanding Russia and a weakened China after the Second Opium War. (Other European powers similarly encroached upon China, but from the south. Hence the former British foothold in Hong Kong, for example.)

The 1.35 billion Chinese people south of the border outnumber Russia’s 144 million almost 10 to 1. The discrepancy is even starker for Siberia on its own, home to barely 38 million people, and especially the border area, where only 6 million Russians face over 90 million Chinese. With intermarriage, trade and investment across that border, Siberians have realized that, for better or for worse, Beijing is a lot closer than Moscow....
—via "Why China will 'reclaim' Siberia", China Daily Mail,
The new map is envisioned to look something like this:

Expanded China-Siberia map showing possible claims China might make

In the meantime China is leasing. From the South China Morning Post, December 18. 2018:
Russia offers 2.5 million acres of land to Chinese farmers, but will it ease Beijing’s soybean shortage?
And although the SCMP's editorial stance usually seems to be pretty much independent of the official Beijing line, the fact the paper is owned by Alibaba means the potential for government pressure should always be factored into stories such as this from the July 20, 2018 edition:
Why forecasts of a Chinese takeover of the Russian Far East are just dramatic myth
With all that as prologue, here's the latest from The Diplomat:

The Dormant Breadbasket of the Asia-Pacific
The promise of Siberian agriculture could meet Asia’s growing food demand. 
By Maarten Elferink and Florian Schierhorn
Countries in the Asia-Pacific region are importing an increasing amount of grain and oilseed to match their growing domestic demand. East Asian countries imported 72.5 million tonnes of grain from around the world last season, an increase of 52 percent over the last 10 years. Japan and South Korea stand out in corn imports, respectively the second and third largest buyer worldwide, and China has surpassed Saudi Arabia as the largest buyer of barley. Southeast Asian grain imports, although a third smaller than the amount destined for East Asia, grew even faster, by 129 percent over the same period, and are forecast to maintain strong growth in the next years – especially as wheat consumption in Southeast Asia is far below the global per capita average of 78 kilograms per year, and even around three times lower than in China and India. Indonesia, for example, is already the second largest buyer of wheat in the world, but has an annual per capita consumption of only 29 kilograms....MORE
"Behind China and Russia's 'Special Relationship'"
Barron's Cover: China's Military Buildup
"Russia Ships First Yamal LNG Cargoes to China Via Northern Sea Route"
Big, Big Money: The 'Power of Siberia’ gas pipeline to China could be global game changer