06/25/2021, 13.56
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Beijing 'eating up' Siberia

by Vladimir Rozanskij

A documentary about the colonization of the Russian Far East by Chinese migrants. They do big business in a sparsely populated area with an unregulated market. Facial recognition "made in China" used to suppress dissent. The Kremlin accepts the growing Chinese presence to overcome the pandemic crisis.

Moscow (AsiaNews) - The increasingly significant Chinese presence in Siberia, also thanks to recent agreements between Beijing and the Kremlin, is the focus of a documentary by  journalist Pavel Afonasev. Titled “Heavenly Siberia” it was presented on June 23 and follows the lives of Chinese immigrants living in the territory of the Russian Federation, especially in its Asian part.

In a meeting in March with his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi, Russian Foreign Minister Sergej Lavrov signed the joint statement "On some issues of global administration in contemporary conditions". The document states that human rights must be defended "respecting national characteristics". On June 16, the two governments agreed to build a lunar station together: work will begin in 2026 and finish in 2035.

Following these and other joint declarations, the inhabitants of Siberia and the Russian Far East speak more and more often of the "expansion" of the Chinese in their territory: settlers from China are looking for better economic conditions or to strengthen their businesses already started. Many migrants from China start over in Russia from scratch; they occupy areas to be deforested and make them arable. To obtain more intensive harvests, they make extensive use of chemicals. In general, the Chinese take away large sectors of the private and public economy from the Russians.

Afonasev's film tries to show the life of the Chinese in Russia without indulging in controversy and prejudice. One of the interviewees, Wang Tsynbin, is the owner of one of the most popular restaurants in Novosibirsk: the “Tsyndao”, named after his hometown. Wang says he arrived in 1995, and began by trading in fabrics, before moving on to the sale of Chinese noodles and fruit:

“In China I was a low-level employee, Russia opened up new perspectives for me, a large market without many rules. Amid ups and downs I managed to make a lot of money”. After opening a number of restaurants, Wang was forced to close one due to the pandemic, but he plans to make up for it soon.

Several Chinese people say how difficult it was to overcome the language barrier with Russian. In Russia, the Chinese are scattered throughout the territory and do not form closed and semi-autonomous communities as in many Western cities. Many Chinese students, however, attend Russian universities, and willingly offer themselves as interpreters for the businesses of their compatriots.

One of the main reasons for the conflict between Siberians and Chinese immigrants is precisely the latter's propensity to destroy wooded areas. A public official from the town of Kolyvan, Vladimir Kirillov, also complains about the loss of value of Siberian wood, which the Chinese sell everywhere as a material for making furniture.

Russia still faces thousands of coronavirus cases per day. To revive its economy, Moscow accepts the growing Chinese presence without looking too closely. In addition to immigration to Siberia, investments by Chinese companies in the country have also increased dramatically, especially in the technological field. Facial recognition cameras from the Chinese company Hikvision are installed in all Russian cities. They are mainly used to control participants in protest demonstrations, against which repressive measures are taken. It is estimated that around nine million Russians have been excluded from the election lists in this way.

China imports the energy resources it increasingly needs from Russia. In some way, Beijing extends its systems of control and management of the economy and public life to its Russian neighbor. The enormous disparity in the number of inhabitants (the Russians are about a tenth of the Chinese) means that China increasingly tends to consider Russia as a modest province of its own empire.

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