Yellow Peril in the Russian Far East

May 13, 1994|By BROPHY O'DONNELL

A Chinese invasion of Russia? Asiatic hordes surging across the steppe?

That specter was raised recently by a report in the Moscow weekly Literaturnaya Gazeta warning of a Chinese takeover of ++ the Russian Far East by ''creeping aggression.'' Better to have called it ''inundation.'' The way the Mississippi River took over Midwestern farmland last summer. China's population is 1.2 billion. Russia's is 149 million. Man the levees.

When China was weak, Russia was strong. Much of the Russian Far East was snatched from China as recently as 1860. Now news from China is upbeat. From Russia, downbeat.

The Chinese economy expands. Forecasts have the gross domestic product growing by 13 percent this year. But Russians are stuck in an economic morass. Foreign investors are flocking to Beijing while growing leery of the risks in Moscow.

The article in Literaturnaya Gazeta runs for about 4,500 words (from its Communist past the publication inherits a weakness for verbosity), but its flavor can be grasped from the following fragmented quotations.

''The Russian Far East with its dying industry, enfeebled army and tiny population receives a stab in the back in the form of intergovernmental agreements that work in favor of the Chinese People's Republic to enter Russia to work for us. There was optimistic talk of cheap Chinese labor. . . .

''As a result the Russian Far East has been flooded by commercial people, overnight traders, the unemployed, Mafia types, and with a rabble that makes our bums and beggars seem to be aristocrats.

''On the trams in Vladivostok Chinese think nothing of spitting from the window into a street thronged with people. In the dining halls they blow their noses with great gusto right to the floor at their own feet or the feet of others. They smoke in stores and trolleys.

''In hostels reserved for them while employed, they fail to use the bed linen supplied, don't wash the dishes, and on the table mice and worms are after the rotting meat.

Many are tubercular. The money and the goods they handle attract criminal elements. . . .

''They build houses, work in the fields, study in the schools, use public transport as well as their personal automobiles, open offices and joint enterprises, engage in physical culture and trade, trade. They obviously feel better off here than at home. . . .

''At way below world prices we sell the Chinese strategic raw materials, fertilizer, technology, bulldozers, scrapers and trucks, while importing into Russia alcoholic beverages, candy containing unhealthy artificial color, crayons, clothing and shoes horrible quality, and other junk. They realize enormous profits in the resale of Russian goods in the south of China and throughout Asia. . . .

''They also invest in construction and real estate. In Primorye alone, Chinese through third parties bought almost 50,000 apartments. Russia's Amurskaya Oblast concluded a 30-year agreement for the creation of cooperatives in Belogorsk and Zavitinsk where more than 1,000 Chinese will live and work on a territory of [2,800 acres], with their own administration. They will hTC build houses, a school and a hospital for themselves. . . .

''The majority of trade and economic contacts are along the Manchurian border. . . .

''China's official ideology still regards the Russian Far East as Chinese territory seized under the czarist-imposed unequal treaties.''

''The population of the Russian Far East is little more than 7 million, while China's northeast is inhabited by over 100 million.''

''On some bright morning our people will wake up to the realization that our guests outnumber us.''

Without taking notice of this diatribe, but almost as though in riposte, China's party-line Beijing Review a few weeks later devoted its cover story to Manzhouli, a city in the northwest corner of Manchuria smack on the Russian border.

The account touts Manzhouli as a great new inland port and an important player in a cross-border free-trade area, ''the Sino-Russian Mutual Trade Zone. The once heavily guarded border crossing has swung open, and the streets are bustling with tourists and merchants.''

A trade fair in August 1993 ''resulted in Russia's importing large quantities of sugar, canned goods, fruit, vegetables and clothing. China imported steel products, timber, chemical fertilizer and cement as well as motor vehicles, aircraft and chemical raw materials. . . .

''Manzhouli's development plans fit in well with those of its cross-border neighbor.'' (What a difference the spin makes!)

Literanurnaya Gazeta says, ''It would be a great mistake to expect one fine day a Chinese incursion into our Far Eastern territories to reclaim them. Even though Moscow more and more neglects its most distant region. Even though our army is growing helpless while theirs becomes more powerful. Even though the Chinese have demonstrated their strength on our borders.''

Is this whistling in the dark?

Russian and Chinese troops first clashed in 1652 at the mouth of the Ussuri River. And only 25 years ago China and the Soviet Union twice fought small but real wars over the possession of an island in that same river.

Perish the thought.

Brophy O'Donnell writes from Catonsville.

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