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  China’s geopolitical phenomena or when we could expect news from Finland-China border

Arûnas Spraunius
2012 01 02

The statement about the news from the border of China and Finland is oxymoron, without any doubt. However, the title does show a certain tendency: even extreme scenarios should not be rejected in the confused globalization.

In September Beijing released a policy document laying out its vision for the country’s future up to the year 2047 when People’s Republic of China will celebrate its 100th anniversary. In the vision China is projected as a rich, strong, democratic, civilized, harmonious and modern socialist country at peace with its neighbors and not seeking to dominate other nations.

In the context of Western financial problems Beijing looks like a life-saver. On 28 October The Financial Times informed that Beijing was likely to contribute to the Eurozone’s bail-out fund (European Financial Stability Facility) if the EU leaders will ensure convincing investment security guarantees. China might be willing to contribute between 50 and 100 billion dollars to the EU Financial Stability Facility (EFSF) or to the new fund established together with the IMF, if certain amount of the loan will be a yen-loan.

China’s top trading partner is the European Union, thus Beijing is interested in Europe’s recovery. Europe is not the only country looking expectantly at Beijing. President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev wrote that the Eurasian Union should be open to the East (i.e. to China). According to the Polish Gazeta Wyborcza China covers the U.S. budget deficits, provides help to separate EU Member States and pledges large amounts of aid to infrastructure of the Equatorial Africa. Thus the entire world looks at China.

But geopolitical situation is more complicated. When China launched sea trials of its first aircraft carrier, the global media wrote that China has started an arms race. Beijing speaks about its new mission in the seas, lays claims to swathes of the South China Sea. Pursuant to the Japanese Government’s annual defense report Japan should be prepared for regular navigation of Chinese ships near Japanese territorial waters. The disputes between Beijing, Vietnam and Japan are likely to get more and more serious; the Chinese have a claim on what India deems its own territory.

But Finland is far away from China, it is necessary to cross the entire Russia in order to reach it. According to Russian statistics, in 1993 China had a population of around 148,9 million, in 2009 – 141,9 million. By the way, in Pskov region which is very close to Finland, the decline of population is catastrophic – 11,5 percent (due to chronic diseases, alcoholism, poverty, criminality and short life expectancy).

The two neighbors, Russia and China have a common interest: to oppose the West, especially the United States. According to Vilya Gelbras, professor of Moscow University, Beijing has a clear program in the Far East, whereas Moscow has nothing of the kind, the Kremlin’s policy is spontaneous.

In 2009, Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and Chinese President Hu Jintao met in New York and signed the “Cooperation program between northeast China and Russia’s far east and east Siberian region for 2009–2018”. Pursuant to the program, the Russian side anticipates 94 objects which will be constructed or developed by the Chinese. According to Vilya Gelbras, this means that there will be at least 94 cities in Russia with the majority of Chinese.

In its policy China doesn’t highlight a special “Russian vector”, since first of all the country seeks beneficial relations with all the states. In this context political relations between the states seem trivial. For instance, the Amur River forms the border between China and Russia, but in 2010 Beijing required (legitimately) to revise the border in 160 locations. The matter is that the pattern of the river basin has changed (both, due to natural causes and bank enforcements), especially from the Chinese side. The Amur River “expands” toward Russia, and the waterway takes the same shift. Thus, it is impossible to prove that China’s actions are deliberate.

Unequal trade relations between the two states have been discussed for many years.  In 2010 the turnover of the Russian-Chinese trade amounted to 59,3 billion dollars. Russian imported goods rose by 18,7 million dollars more than to export. 56 percent of exports were mineral raw foods, 14,2 percent - wood, additional 14 percent – chemical industry and only 7,9 percent – equipment and vehicles. Chinese exported to Russia the goods for 39 billion dollars, half of which came in machinery and equipment, and the rest – for clothing, footwear, metal and food prices.

China is also eager to reach other post-Soviet territories. When Belarus went out of money, its authorities started negotiations concerning the sales of Belaruskali, one of the biggest producers of potash fertilizers in the world, to Chinese state companies. Besides, last year Beijing assigned Belarus a credit of 1 billion dollars (for construction of roads, electrification of railways, establishment of Belarusian-Chinese science and Technology Park etc.). A China Town is also to be launched in Minsk.

In June of this year Hu Jintao paid a visit to Ukraine and participated, together with Viktor Yanukovych in the ceremony of signing 3,5 million dollar worth of deals. China also signed a Strategic Cooperation Agreement with Kazakhstan, whereas Turkmenistan received from Beijing a 4 billion dollar credit to increase gas exports to China. Russians don’t like China’s initiatives, but they cannot do anything about that.

In the contemporary world threats emerge in parallel with integration scenarios. America and China are related not only by trade but also by various social projects. For instance, about 125 thousand Chinese students are studying throughout the United States. The concept “China is a responsible international policy actor” is used more frequently. The list of annual disputable subjects between the two states has also increased.

In the article “A Step Toward Trust With China” (The New York Times) Admiral Mike Mullen, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, explained why he invited his Chinese counterpart general Chen Bingde from China in May (some time ago the latter invited Mullen to China). The Americans demonstrated to the guest the unmanned aerial vehicle Predator; in their turn the Chinese demonstrated their state-of-the-art submarine and fighter jet J-11 copied from the Russian Su-27SK. According to admiral, the conversations were far from cordial, but they did try to reach common understanding and found new forms cooperation.

The article “The Solitude of the Great State” (English edition of the Chinese weekly Economic Observer) touches the issue of inclusion (not involvement) of China in several territorial disputes and consequent diplomatic problems related to the inability to declare own interests and to other states’ distrust toward the developing Beijing. As it turned out, China, the world’s second-largest economy, behaves as a medium player in the geopolitical race or even tries to stay unnoticed. Quite often Beijing is not able to clearly express own position and is often not understood by others.

According to professor of Harvard University J.Nay, the Chinese threat is overestimated. We must not forget China’s neighbors: Japan, India, South Korea or Vietnam, i.e. a strong counterbalance. A paradox, but Russia seems to be the weakest link in this “counterbalance” system.

Only God knows when China will come close to the near frontier. If some day this happens, our understanding of China and frontier would be absolutely different.

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