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Chinese Threat to Siberia

As an incentive for Russia to cooperate, and provide the needed technology, in early 2021 Chinese Internet censors allowed open discussion about Chinese claims on a quarter of the Russian Far East and most of the prime coastal areas. China never cancelled these claims, even in the 1940s and 50s when China was very dependent on Russia. These claims amount to about nine percent of Russian territory. The Russian Far East contains part of Siberia as well as the large Pacific Ocean coastline and the port of Vladivostok. The coastal areas are the most densely populated. The Russian Far East is huge, at 6.9 million square kilometers. That is nearly the size (eight million square kilometers) of the continental United States. While these 48 states have 310 million people, the Russian Far East only has a population of 8.3 million. The Far East region contains 40 percent of Russian territory and less than six percent of Russia’s population. The region contains many naval and ballistic missile bases as well as ports that provide the cheapest way to get goods from the rest of Russia to the Far East. The Trans-Siberian Railroad alone cannot support the population and economy of the Far East region.

The far eastern territories make up a third of Russia’s geographical space but by 2017 only 6.2 million people lived there, which is less than 4.5 percent of the Russian population and one third of the population of Moscow. Even though this part of Russia has always been underpopulated and the government has been forced to take special measures to populate it, the highest demographic indicator in the Far East was at the end of the 1980s when, motived by large-scale Soviet construction projects and generous salaries, the population in the region reached eight million. However, after the collapse of the USSR and the cancelation of prestige projects, people began leaving to return to the European part of Russia. The number of people moving out of the region has dropped, but the trend has not disappeared.

From the end of World War II until the middle 1960s, the Soviets did not look upon China as a hostile power. The only Soviet-force of any consequence along the border with China was a low-strength army with four divisions near Vladivostok, and it was oriented primarily against US forces in Korea and Japan. By 1965, however, the ideological and territorial disputes between the Chinese and Soviet leaderships were growing increasingly bitter. At that time, the Soviets made the decision to build up their military forces significantly along the border with China.

From 1965 to 1970, Soviet ground and air forces in regions adjacent to the Sino-Soviet border more than doubled and totalled about 280,000 men. About half of these were combat ready. In addition, units which could form the base for as many as six more divisions were identified along the border. Some 75,000 well—armed KGB border guards were also stationed in the area.

Since 1965, the Soviets created a new tactical air army with some 360 combat aircraft in the Transbaykal/Mongolia area. One new fighter regiment with about 40 aircraft was added to the Far East Military District, bringing the total for these two air armies to 600 combat aircraft. The filling out of existing divisions probably kept the flow of men and equipment to the border as high last year as it was in 1966 and 1967.

The initial stages of the Soviet buildup were concentrated in the east on the two military districts opposite Manchuria —— the area in which the Chinese were strongest. The Soviets subsequently concentrated on filling out existing units there rather than sending in new ones. A new military district — which the Soviets call the Central Asian Military District — was established in the summer of 1969, to improve Moscow's command and control of forces along the western portion of the border.

More than 450,000 Chinese troops were stationed in the Shenyang Military Region, and ground forces strength in Inner Mongolia was been increased from 40,000 men in 1966 to about 75,000 in 1970. Another 70,000 Chinese troops were located to the west, opposite central Siberia. Although the Chinese built defensive positions along likely routes of advance into the country, most Chinese garrisons were well back from the border.

Without the use of nuclear weapons, Soviet forces deployed along the border would not be strong enough, even when brought up to full strength, to invade and occupy a significant portion of China. They would be capable, however, of delivering a decisive rebuff to any Chinese attack or of launching a limited offensive in northern China.

By 1972, Soviet forces along the border included

  • In the Far East Military District with up to 21 motorized rifle divisions; no less than 17, and they are building toward 21. The uncertainty is because they move the headquarters first and then they fill it out.
  • In the Far East Military District there are two tank divisions. And the total number of tanks is between 4,300 and 5,000.
  • In the Trans-Baikal Military District there are eight motorized rifle divisions, and two tank divisions, and between 2,700 and 2,900 tanks.
  • In Mongolia there are two motorized rifle divisions and one tank division and a total of 700 tanks.
  • In the Central Asian military district,there are six motorized rifle divisions, one tank division, and a total of 1,900 tanks.

So the total in these districts was some 43 divisions, in all four districts, and about between 9,600 and 10,500 tanks. In addition, in the Siberian military district, which is right behind Mongolia, and therefore available within less than a week, are three motorized rifle divisions and one tank division and 900 tanks. In the Turkestan military district—the Turkestan military district we consider a one-week reinforcement to the Central Asian military district — there are five motorized rifle divisions, one tank division and 1, 200 tanks. In the Far East military district, but not right on the border — reinforcements are three motorized rifle divisions in addition to the 23 divisions. And they have 600 tanks.

Third was the strategic reserve which can be used for these purposes. We are not counting Western Russia. These divisions would have to call up reserves. There are 12 motorized rifle divisions, nine tank divisions, and 5,000 tanks. And then there are seven airborne divisions which are hard to count because they can be moved. They are not located near Chinese borders, but they could be moved. So counting all of these reinforcement divisions, the total number — and all the strategic reserve — there was a total of 55-60 motorized rifle divisions, and 17 tank divisions. This included 17,300 to 18,200 tanks. And the US estimate was that including ground forces, KGB border guards, the border guards of the secret police (there are 70,000 of these), military transport, strategic defense — everything that was available in 1970 for deployment against the PRC was between 1,115,000 and 1,170,000 men. And in wartime, it would be 1,865,000 to 1,915,000, that is if reserves were called up. This was without shifting forces from western Russia.

NATO's analysis of force requirements to defend the Central Region was based on the assumption that 24 Soviet divisions could be tied down on the southern flank while 46 divisions could be occupied on the Sino/Soviet border. If any of these 70 divisions were free to transfer to the Central Region, NATO's needs in that area would be even greater

A Future Chinese Threat ?

Russia has plenty to be wary of: tens of millions of Chinese live across the border from a Russian region that is virtually devoid of people and home to an astounding wealth of natural resources. Most of the population is packed into the tiny sliver of land on the Pacific coast known as Primorye, a sliver that blocks China from having access to the Sea of Japan.

While the chances of a large-scale war breaking out are remote, China would most likely be the target of any preemptive nuclear strike. Most serious military planners dismissed any threat from NATO long ago, he posited. China still has a mass mobilization army, and the Russian Far East is thinly populated, has little infrastructure, and a small Russian military contingent. With the Russian army restructured to rapidly respond to small-scale wars, Russia would have to rely on its nuclear deterrent to prevent a Chinese attack.

Siberia is not naturally populated beyond sparse nomadic populations. There are very few sound reasons for people to move and stay there. As of 2002, the Siberian Federal District counted 20.3 million inhabitants spread over 5 million square kilometers, for a population density of 4 inhabitants per square kilometer. The Far Eastern District had 6.7 million inhabitants spread over 6.2 million square kilometers, for a population density of barely over l per square kilometer. Siberia as a whole therefore, counted 27 million inhabitants spread over close to 12 million square kilometers, for an overall density of slightly over 2 inhabitants per square kilometer.

Siberia represented about 19 per cent of the total population of the Russian Federation. If this ratio remained constant, its estimated 2030 population would barely exceed 20 million, for a density just above 1.5 inhabitants per square kilometer! If an increasing trend for ethnic Russians to leave Siberia and move back to European Russia can be expected, the on-the-ground population density, a pre-condition for the modem industrial and logistical ability of such a large territory to be maintained and operated, would come dangerously close to a breaking point.

Qing China Areas lost to Russia amount to about 1.7 million square kilometers, and represent the only area that can sustain life there, the Southern Siberian belt. This is not a matter that is immediately visible or voiced by the Chinese, but is an invisible part of ordinary Chinese people's mind. If there is an opportunity in the future, they will get them back.

The population in the Russian Far East (RFE) and Siberia is continuing to decline, due both to a long-term trend of "Western Drift" (internal migration from east to west within Russia) and the serious but somewhat less acute fertility and mortality problems that plague Russia as a whole. GOR efforts to counteract these trends have failed to reverse population loss east of the Urals, and strict immigration policies have limited the number of foreigners who could replace the shrinking Russian population. Many local officials and demographers recognize the threat of Chinese immigrants overrunning the RFE and Siberia is greatly exaggerated, and that a more relaxed immigration policy and gradual economic integration with China and the rest of the Asia-Pacific region could lead to economic opportunities and improved social conditions. It appears, however, that policymakers in Moscow have yet to recognize that China could be more of an opportunity than a threat on the eastern front of Russia's demographic crisis.

As of January 1, 2007, the population of the RFE stood at 6.5 million people, 18.8 percent less than in 1990. Siberia lost 7.2 percent of its population over the same period, and now has 19.6 million inhabitants. (Russia's population as a whole declined by 3.7 percent over that period.) The steep decline in the eastern population can be explained by both natural population loss (more deaths than births) and "Western Drift." In addition to the difficulties of a harsher climate and, in many areas, geographical isolation, wages in the RFE and Siberia are lower than the Russian average, while the cost of living is higher. Consumer prices in eastern Russia remain on average one-third higher than they are in the country as a whole. While demographic decline has tapered off considerably in recent years after the big losses of the 1990s, a number of trends lead demographers, economists, and policymakers to worry anew about population loss.

Sensationalist Russian press accounts in the early 1990s warned that millions of Chinese would overrun eastern Russia in a matter of decades. Based solely on comparative population, the fears have some merit. Experts call the RFE and Siberia a "demographic desert." Only 5.5 million people live in the five Russian regions bordering Northeast China (not including Altay, which shares a small border with Northwest China), while over 90 million people live in the three Chinese provinces bordering the RFE. The population density in the RFE as a whole is 1.4 people per square kilometer, and is 2 to 3 people per square kilometer in the four RFE regions along the Chinese border, but the population density is 20 times greater on the Chinese side.

The GOR is wary of loosening immigration policies because it could lead to instability and exacerbate existing social problems, such as xenophobia and ethnic conflict. President Putin stated on 18 October 2007, in his annual on-line question-and-answer session with the Russian people, that stopping the sharp population decline in the RFE is one of the government's top priorities. One of the major goals behind the federal government's recently-announced 566 billion ruble (22.6 billion USD) development plan for the RFE and Trans-Baykal region is to stem out-migration and make settlement in the area more attractive. Potential projects include the construction of new oil refineries, ports, train lines, shipbuilding centers, hospitals, schools, and industrial plants. The Kremlin has also drawn up a plan to help ethnic Russians living outside of Russia settle in targeted areas of the country.

Most demographers doubt that current government programs can counteract the prevailing population trends. Although depopulation east of the Urals is one of the most serious aspects of Russia's demographics crisis, no one knows what to do about it. "Demographic osmosis" will continue -- as great disparities in population density exist between the RFE and northeastern China, people will move from more densely populated China to the more sparsely populated RFE. Russian populations that are on the map for primarily political or military reasons will not survive under "market conditions" and will have to be artificially supported for years to come.

The Kremlin is faced with a fundamental contradiction between its political goals and economic reality: it wants to maintain its population east of the Urals as a bulwark against China and an outlet to the Pacific, but despite grand development plans, the economic incentives for living in the region remain lacking.

Russia’s priority is to develop economic relations with its Asian partners, which means that it must create a dynamic economy in the Far East. To do so, an ambitious plan was adopted in 2011, part of which became the distribution of free land. According to the "Law About Far hectare" which came into force on 01 June 2016, Russians will be able to obtain one hectare (2.47 acres) of land in the Far East as personal property with the condition that they develop the "Far Hectare" within five years. Yury Trutnev, deputy prime minister and presidential plenipotentiary envoy to the Far East Federal District, regularly travels across the far eastern regions in order to personally examine how the project is developing. In August 2016, Trutnev told the Ministry of the Development of the Far East to get an update from the ministries of defense, natural resources and transportation as soon as possible about those lots of land that cannot be given to civilians as the Far East hectare.

Is one hectare a large or small amount of land? To build a dacha and conduct subsistence farming it is enough. But who will go to the Far East from affluent Russian regions just to build a dacha? For a real agricultural or farming enterprise, one that would attract migrants, a hectare is too small to establish any type of real agricultural business. In the 19th century, the state gave not one but 17 hectares of land to each male member of a family, while males over the age of 17 from the Ussuri Cossack battalion were given 32 hectares each.

Chinese companies use the land, meaning that while it is officially available, in real terms it is occupied.

Articles about China’s claims on the territory of Siberia as supposedly originally Chinese lands have come across more and more often. In particular, in the article "Return of the lost Chinese Siberia is impossible" ), the Chinese edition of Sohu wrote that in the distant past, present-day Siberia belonged to China, however, later became part of the Russian Empire.

According to the publication, according to archaeological research, the Chinese became interested in Siberia in the VIII-V centuries BC. But the territory of South Siberia at that time was part of the Scythian-Siberian world. Here can distinguish Tagar in Minus, Uyuk in Tuva, in the Altai Mountains - Pazyryk, members of the Yuezha tribal union. In Eastern Siberia and the Baikal region, the so-called culture of tiled graves was widespread. In the south of the Far East and Manchuria, the Donghu tribes lived. The territory of Mongolia (including Inner Mongolia) was inhabited by the Chi-di tribes. The territories of the Chinese kingdoms did not extend beyond the southern border of the Gobi Desert. Therefore, one cannot speak of any Chinese dominance even on the territory of Mongolia, not to mention the more northern territories of Siberia.

Further, the publication writes that the Han Dynasty began to control the territory of Siberia in 206 BC. - 220 A.D. Stop! What is the Han dynasty like? Its northern border passed south of the Great Wall of China. Nevertheless, the territories from Transbaikalia to the Tan Shan and all the northern territories up to the taiga zone were part of the Hunn Empire. Since the Huns and Han were irreconcilable enemies, there could be no talk of any Chinese dominance in Siberia.

There was no Chinese dominance during the time of the Turkic Kaganates until the beginning of the 7th century, when the Tang dynasty included the former territories of the East Turkic Kaganate and extended to the Tien Shan in the west, and dependence on the Tang dynasty extended to Sogdiana and Tokharistan in the west, Primorye and Manchuria in the east. But not to the territory of Siberia.

The power of China in Siberia was seriously strengthened in the years 1271-1368 under the Yuan Dynasty, writes the publication Sohu. And again, what did China have to do with the Mongol Yuan Dynasty, founded by the grandson of Genghis Khan Khubilai and led by Genghisides? And although South Siberia was also part of the Yuan empire, as well as the territory of China, it is reasonable to talk here about the dependence of China itself on the Yuan dynasty, and not about the dependence of Siberia on China.

The publication further writes that during the Qing Dynasty in 1644-1755, a significant part of Siberia was still under Chinese control. And again, the publication ascribes the merits of others to China. 1635-1755 is the time of the existence of the Dzungar Khanate. As for the Qing dynasty contemporary to him, Qing and Dzungaria fought a war for influence in the region into which Russia intervened. By the time of the defeat of the Dzungar Khanate, most of its territories in Siberia were transferred to Russia, and not to China. According to the Nerchinsk Treaty of 1689, part of the Amur Region, but not Siberia, went to China. And although the Russian-Chinese border was ratified by the Kyakhtinsky treaty, the territory of the Uryankhai Territory (modern Tuva) remained controversial until the beginning of the 20th century, when Tuva nominally became part of the protectorate of Russia in 1914, but in fact it was an independent state (in the period from 1921 to 1944 - the Tuva People’s Republic). However, for unknown reasons, the publication of Sohu attributes the loss of Chinese influence over most of Siberia precisely to the defeat of the Dzungar Khanate.

Thus, the publication summarizes, at that time the Chinese diplomats acted extremely short-sighted from a strategic point of view and decided to give Siberia to the Russian Empire. Of course, now the Chinese authorities, the newspaper writes, regret the decision made in those days, but it is obvious that their chance to get these lands is irretrievably lost.

Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov and the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi signed the Supplementary Narrative Protocol to the Eastern Section of the Sino-Russian Boundary and attached drawings in Beijing on 21 July 2008. The media declared that "the survey of the 4,300 kilometers of the China-Russia border was completed." Yang Jiechi said that this was a "political mutually beneficial and win-win result." The Russian Foreign Minister emphasized that the Sino-Russian border will be an "always" stable and friendly bond. Obviously, this is not "the end of the 41-year border negotiations", but the conclusion of the Sino-Russian border dispute since the Opium War in the 19th century. In other words, the one million square kilometers of land that China ceded to Russia in the Far East will never be "recovered."

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Page last modified: 13-09-2021 17:24:06 ZULU