Does China have designs on Siberia? – The Hill

Does China have designs on Siberia? – The Hill

Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin is tarnished as a result of Russia’s unprovoked invasion and occupation of Ukraine. Xi has been distancing China from Putin’s predations gradually — out of deference to his two biggest customers, the United States and European Union.

But on Sept. 15 his displeasure about the war became public. Putin himself admitted at a press conference following a meeting with Xi that China had “concerns” about his war in Ukraine. So did India.

But there is one more elephant in the room: Siberia, a region bigger and richer than any place on Earth, with resources that underpin Putin’s economy. It is Asian, not European, and one day will mostly fall into China’s hands. Xi knows this and needn’t lift a finger to speed along this outcome. To some, a Chinese takeover of Siberia may seem preposterous. But Putin’s flailing war against the West increases the odds that the Russian Federation itself may atomize.

Putin may eventually be removed, freeing Russia from a dictatorship but also liberating revolutionary and secessionist movements across the vast Federation. Moscow’s militarized center, with a military that’s been humiliated, will not hold. There are dozens of active secessionist movements across Russia: Chechnya, Tatarstan, Kaliningrad, Sakha Republic and others in Siberia.

In 2021, Kazimierz Wujcicki, a lecturer in Eastern European Studies at the University of Warsaw, posited six scenarios for Russia: “the fall of Russia under the influence of China”; “balkanization”; “territorial disintegration”; a “gradual but peaceful disintegration”; an “imperial” boom resulting from high oil and gas prices for years; and “modernization” in cooperation with the West.

Cooperation is not in Putin’s DNA, and his illegal invasion of Ukraine demonstrates that. Now his army is in retreat, and he may be heading toward Gotterdammerung, or the type of complete collapse that happened in 1991-92 after the Soviet Union withdrew ignominiously from Afghanistan. And Alexei Navalny and other Putin critics were stilled last year in a crackdown but remain, and their release would unleash balkanization.

Each restive region outside Siberia has chomped for decades to become independent and are in jurisdictions that were cohesive, autonomous political or cultural entities for centuries. But Siberia was nomadic until the 19th century, when Russia moved in militarily.

In ancient times, it was populated by nomadic Turkic and Mongol tribes then governed by the Mongols in the 13th century until fur traders came in the 16th century. A hundred years later, Russia extended its reach by building forts to defend migrants and as a buffer from China.

Then in 1860, the czar grabbed Chinese territory in the Far East, annexing 350,000 square miles of Manchurian China (roughly the size of Nigeria) with its verdant climate and strategic Pacific coastline, including Vladivostok on the Sea of Japan. It did so by capitalizing on a series of unjust treaties that became known as the Amur Annexation, which was foisted on the Qing Dynasty by the West to settle the hideous Opium Wars. (These treaties also handed over Hong Kong to the British.) They are still resented by China today.

Today, about 34 million out of 144 million Russians live in Siberia, but Russia’s economy is disproportionately dependent on Siberian resources. About 80 percent of its oil resources, 85 percent of its natural gas, 80 percent of its coal and similar amounts of precious metals and diamonds, and about 40 percent of the nation’s timber resources are scattered across this vast territory.

Despite this endowment, Russia’s economy remains peanut-sized compared to America’s and China’s. Its GDP (and living standards) have fallen since 2014 sanctions were imposed, and today its GDP is smaller than New York City’s or China’s industrialized province of Guangdong.

This is because Putin’s reign has looted the wealth of the Russian people through a combination of costly military misadventures and control of the country’s corporations and assets by his oligarchy.

Russia’s real “existential threat” is Vladimir Putin – not America or NATO or China – because his war now orphans Russia from Europe, where 75 percent of its exports go.

Europe is de-coupling from Russia, more or less permanently, and Central Asia builds infrastructure, with Chinese funding, that will carry its energy, minerals, metals and manufactured goods directly to China or Europe, bypassing Russia.

Russia’s DNA is flawed and based on human rights abuses of its own people and others, oligarchy greed, total dictatorship and a delusional aim to recreate the Soviet Union.

Russia’s rotten dictator and his elite will destroy its federation. China’s Xi knows this and so should the West and its Asian allies. It’s all about shoveling weapons and money to the Ukrainians to defeat Russia’s hapless military and let the Kremlin implode, fully removing the most toxic nation-state on the planet.

Diane Francis is a non-resident senior fellow at the Atlantic Council in Washington at its Eurasia Center. She is editor at large at National Post in Canada, a columnist with Kyiv Post, author of 10 books and specializes in geopolitics, white-collar crime, technology and business. She writes a newsletter about America twice weekly on Substack.