Russians fear Chinese takeover

BBC News Online, Thursday 12 April 2001, 14:34 GMT 15:34 UK

Citizens of Amur Region in Russia's Far East are waking up to the fact that a quiet revolution has overtaken them—the Chinese have arrived and are there to stay.

Local people have begun referring to the phenomenon as creeping occupation.

Large numbers of Chinese are crossing the border to trade, over a thousand a day according to local officials, and many of them are staying to live and work.

The Amur Region sits atop northern China and for centuries has been home to an array of native peoples, many originating from the Chinese interior.

Fertile farmland, gold deposits and ample timber reserves made the region a magnet for settlers from all over the Russian empire and today the vast majority of its inhabitants are native Russians.

Making money

But these people are now feeling threatened by the new wave of immigrants.

Now it's all to benefit the Chinese, one Russian inhabitant said to a Russian TV correspondent, sent to report on the situation.

The Chinese should consider our interests too, not only theirs, the man complained.

And just what are the Chinese doing to cause the Russians such disquiet?

They are making money out of farming, restaurants and ordinary trade where their Russian counterparts mostly fail.

Many of the tourists that cross the border from China, stay on as illegal immigrants, but by keeping a low profile and, above all, by avoiding breaking the law, they remain invisible to the authorities and quietly get on with making a living.


Russian TV has reported that the Chinese are now present in almost all structures in the region's capital Blagoveshchensk and that Chinese companies have begun building houses in the city.

Though they are still not represented at local government level, the new settlers have begun to influence politics in the area. In the recent electoral campaign for governor, Russian media noted vigorous lobbying by the Chinese to protect their interests.

And resentment among Russians has increased as roles have been reversed: where in past centuries the Chinese were invited to the region to work as cheap labour, Russians are now being forced to work for their new neighbours.

We have no work on our collective farm. But we have to earn a living somehow, one Russian woman working for a Chinese vegetable producer told a reporter.

For their part, the Chinese claim they want to help Russia.

Good return

Russian agriculture is weak and I would like to grow many vegetables and supply them to the Russians, one vegetable grower said.

Likewise, a female restaurateur told the reporter that while she was a Chinese woman she was now a Russian citizen.

I'm going to live and work here for a long time.

I have no restaurant in China. I have invested money in Russia and want to get a good return, she said.

And not all Russians resent the Chinese. One Russian man, Yevgeny, said he earns more than his fellow greenhouse workers by taking on board the main rule of business in the new climate: adopt the Chinese style.

Everything is possible if you know the right people, Yevgeny said.

His brother is married to a relative of the Chinese greenhouse owner, and Yevgeniy is looking to build his own greenhouse one day.

There will always be work. But some people are too proud to work for the Chinese, they don't want to, he said.

But as they look across the River Amur and see the once small Chinese village of Heihe developing into a thriving modern city on the back of profits made across the border, the Russians may well decide they have to swallow their pride.