July 23, 2008


Wary of China, Russians look West (Dmitry Shlapentokh, 7/24/08, Asia Times)

[F]or those who interweave China's economy with other aspects of the country - what these Russians perceive as essential traits - they see China as a threat.

The main reason is one of demographics. Russia's 142 million population is declining, while China's 1.3 billion-plus is growing. Across Russia, one finds posters calling for bigger families and radio broadcasts that paint population decline as a catastrophic development that could lead to Russia's disintegration.

Russians fear a Chinese spillover into their eastern regions. They acknowledge that Chinese migrants are very hardworking and they could even transform Russia's vast tundra into rice paddies. But (white) Russians fear they will be absorbed into the Chinese multitude.

One of my interlocutors said she believed this was inevitable, and her only consolation was that by the time it happened she would not be alive.

The Russian view of the Chinese as hardworking and obedient to often ruthless masters fits the old image of peril from the East that has been historically associated with the Mongols/Tatars, the only people to have actually conquered Russia, in the 13th century.

In the late Boris Yeltsin and early Putin era, the image of the Mongols was recast due to the popularity of "Eurasianism" - the political/philosophical creed that regards Russians as a unique blend of Orthodox Slavs and Muslims of mostly Turkic origin. The Mongols were credited with forging this unique "symbiosis". Now, however, the old image of the Mongols is back, and they are seen as ruthless conquerors who brought Russia horrific suffering, regardless of any positive aspects of their rule. These Mongols are often associated with the Chinese, and Asians in general.

The implication of this lingering fear of the Chinese among the populace, even when their positive qualities, such as hard work, are acknowledged, is that Russia continues to be oriented toward the West, especially Europe. This despite concerns over an advancing North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the United States' planned missile defense system in Europe.

Russians regard Europe as much closer to them than the people of the East. Many hope that "Old" Europe - notably Germany and France - will recognize that economically, militarily and demographically, Russia is essential to them as a fellow Christian, Caucasian civilization that faces the same pressures from the East.

We need not worry about alienating Russia, not just because it's so weak but because it has nowhere to go.

Posted by Orrin Judd at July 23, 2008 8:12 AM

"her only consolation was that by the time it happened she would not be alive."

The classic statement of a society without a future. I have three kids, and I care a lot more about what happens to them than I do about what happens to me.

The saddest thing is I'm not even sure she's right. Even if she's old, she may very well live to see the worst, because it's not that far off.

Posted by: Lisa at July 23, 2008 8:59 AM

"Russia is essential to them as a fellow Christian, Caucasian civilization that faces the same pressures from the East."

Bah. China is not on Europe's doorstep. Militarily and economically it's only a threat to neighbouring countries reliant on unskilled labour.

Posted by: Ali Choudhury at July 23, 2008 11:10 AM
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