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Russia watches the rise of China
Some Russian analysts fear another military challenge from China. Others believe the real threat will be Chinese economic dominance over Russia's far-east.

For much of its history Russia has been pre-occupied with threats to its security from the west, but Moscow has always kept an eye out for trouble from the east.

Relations between the Soviet Union and China broke down in the 1950s, and now Moscow is again worried about Beijing's ambitions.

Some Russian analysts fear another military challenge from China. Others believe the real threat will be Chinese economic dominance over Russia's far-east.

Moscow correspondent Norman Hermant filed this report from Vladivostok, the largest city in Russia's far-east.
NORMAN HERMANT: Every May, Russia flaunts its military might on Red Square. Soldiers, tanks, and fly pasts commemorate the victory in the Second World War.

But even with displays of strength like this, some Kremlin policy makers have been worry for years that Russia faces a growing threat. Not from the West but to the country's enormous far-east, from China.

ALEXANDER KHRAMCHIKHIN, MILITARY ANALYST (translation): From my point the threat is extremely serious, not just for the far-east but for all of Russia.

NORMAN HERMANT: More than 150 years ago, the Russian empire reached here: Vladivostok, on the Sea of Japan, or the East Sea, a bulwark for Russian power in Asia.

This city is nearly five times closer to Beijing than it is to Moscow, and there are strategic thinkers who worry that Russia's presence here cannot hold back China - the emerging super power next door.

ALEXANDER KHRAMCHIKHIN (translation): It's absolutely evident that China just can't survive without expansion. Nobody likes to talk about that. China would naturally prefer a peaceful way of expansion, but if it fails or if the speed of this expansion turns out to be extremely slow, then a military path is quite possible.

NORMAN HERMANT: You don't hear much talk like that on the streets of Vladivostok where the influence of China is a fact of life.

Xue Huilin is one of few Chinese who came here and stayed for decades. He married a Russian, he has Russian daughters, and now has Russian citizenship. But the former journalist now, now an art dealer, says the issue of China's growing power is never far away.

XUE HUILIN, FORMER EDITOR, EASTERN BRIDGE NEWSPAPER: I think the problem is very serious. Russia leaders nor comfortable.

NORMAN HERMANT: They're worried?

XUE HUILIN: Worried. Worried, yes. Putinís very worried.

NORMAN HERMANT: There's not much fear at local universities where Chinese students regularly come to study Russian.

And with economic prospects much brighter across the border, many young Russians are eager to learn Mandarin.

Most of these students see China as an opportunity.

SASHA KONSTANTINOVA, STUDENT: I think they have never tried to make a war. They just tried to have friendly dialogue from our countries.

NORMAN HERMANT:: But even here, not all are quite so sure.

MIKHAIL ZHARIKOV, STUDENET (translation): I think that Russia should be aware of China because Russia is unable to keep control over the far east. That is why the government arranges all sorts of summits and builds roads. But they fail to realise that Chinese civilisation is such that if China was willing, it would have already completely brought the far-east Ďtilthe Ural is under its control.

To me it seems there's a big threat and the government realises it.

NORMAN HERMANT: Considering the size of this region and its relatively small population, the challenges for Russia are obvious.

Most analysts agree the real potential threat to Russia's far-east isnít the military itís from China's overwhelming advantage in economic clout and population.

Russia's far-east is a vast area, two-thirds the size of China, with just 6.5 million people. Contrast that with the three neighbouring Chinese provinces with a population of about 130 million.

In the fields of Primorsky Krai, the region around Vladivostok, it's not hard to see how China's huge pool of labour is being put to work.

There are no exact figures to determine just how many Chinese are here on temporary work visas, but the number is believed to be in the tens of thousands in this region alone.
The work is hard and the pay is low by Russian standards. Without the workers from China, there would be no harvest at this farming cooperative.

VALENTINA ELISEEVA, ISKRA AGRICULTURAL COOPERATIVE (translation): The Russians now are not so interested in working in the field s and farming under such conditions when it is cold, bad weather, rain and humidity.

It is more prestigious for everyone to be engaged in trade, in management.

NORMAN HERMANT: It's much the same story at this local factory where workers from China produce wood flooring that's exported to the United States.

By some estimates, in all of Russia's far-east and Siberia, there are more than 500,000 Chinese workers in jobs like these. Very few stay. Most work virtually non stop for several months at a time and return to China.

The manager here, himself Chinese, says it's a practice that works well for both countries.

WANG LI ZHI, PEGAS PARQUET FACTORY MANAGER (translation): I've been working here for quite a while. I see how Russia is developing. It was a bit behind, but now Russia is progressing.

NORMAN HERMANT: But it's not progressing fast enough to keep its best and brightest.

PROFESSOR VIKTOR LARIN, RUSSIAN ACADEMY OF SCIENCE: The most serious problem that the quality of the population is changing. The most active, young, educated people leave this region. We do not have enough qualified people who would like to live here and to develop this region.

NORMAN HERMANT: But if economic development doesn't come, this part of Russia could slowly but surely start to drift. And Moscow knows it.
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