Just The Facts

Shortsighted Russia, Patient China

Ten ways Putin’s Crimea intervention re-opens the door to territorial claims against Russia.


  • Nobody benefits more from Putin's move in Crimea -- and has bigger sanctioning potential on Russia -- than China.
  • In the 19th century, China was forced to cede the Far East and parts of Siberia to Russia.
  • In Crimea, Russia has set a dangerous precedent for the Chinese that they may exploit one day.

1. Nobody benefits more from Putin’s move in Crimea — and has bigger sanctioning potential on Russia over the long term — than China.

2. During the age of European colonial expansion in the 19th century, China was forced to cede the Far East and parts of Siberia to Russia.

3. During the last century, in 1960s and early 1970s, there were border tensions and even a number of armed clashes between China and the Soviet Union.

4. Small parts of Russian territory were then quietly ceded to China. While the two countries recently agreed to accept the current borders, China claims much larger chunks of what is now Russia.

5. As if to “settle” these claims by osmosis, Chinese settlers have been steadily moving into Russia’s remote, economically depressed and underpopulated regions.

6. By asserting its historic sovereignty over Crimea, Russia has set a dangerous precedent for the Chinese as they look over their northern border.

7. Unlike the poor Crimea that Russia just seized, those vast empty spaces of Russia’s Far East are full of all kinds of natural resources.

8. Energy resources are what China’s booming economy craves. And now China’s citizens live there too, much like ex-Soviet Russians residing in Crimea.

9. Russia’s Crimea strategy creates a legal precedent for other countries that have “alternative” border preferences, including China, to follow suit if the relevant opportunities arise.

10. Count on Beijing to bide its time – and, unlike Putin, not to do anything precipitous or unlawful. But when the time comes, it will not hesitate to re-assert its territorial claims against Russia.


The upshot:

After the Crimea incident, Russia will have no one to blame but Putin for providing a convenient excuse for an eventual Chinese land grab.


From Advantage China: Putin’s Dangerous Crimea Precedent by Alexei Bayer (The Globalist).



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Responses to “Shortsighted Russia, Patient China”

Archived Comments.

  1. On March 18, 2014 at 3:40 pm Tim Bucknall responded with... #

    roughly how much of Siberia are the chinese interested in? any chance of a map?

  2. On March 18, 2014 at 6:29 pm qiuwei responded with... #

    none. this article is entirely made up. china is not interested in territorial claim north as having the Russian pacific fleet around put pressure on US and Japan. and serve as an effective bufferstate. China has no interest of getting any closer to the Japanese mainland that would force them to add another fleet in the sea of japan.

    it is cheaper for china to just buy the resources from russia and have russian military deal with japan.

  3. On March 21, 2014 at 9:26 am Bruce Acker responded with... #

    Chinese migration to the Russian Far East has been greatly exaggerated and fueled by Russian politicians, especially in the 1990s and early 2000s, for their own political gain and to get Moscow’s attention to the region’s post-Soviet economic dislocation. Russia remains a potent military force, and military action by China would be a dangerous distraction from the current economic modernization path. It seems reasonable to say that China would like to continue the lengthy process of reversing the unequal treaties imposed upon it by European powers in the 1800s, and I think people in the Russian Far East remain nervous about that. (In the Treaties of Aigun and Beijing in 1858 and 1860, China ceded territory that approximately corresponds to contemporary Amurskaya oblast, Khabarovsky krai, and Primorsky krai.) But by the time the demographic and military balances might make Chinese incursion into the Russian Far East feasible, Russia’s annexation of Crimea would be old news (like 50-100 years old) and a very minor consideration. See, for example, Bobo Lo, “Axis of Convenience: Moscow, Beijing, and the New Geopolitics” (Brookings and Chatham House 2008).
    Nevertheless, it will be important to follow China’s reaction to Russia’s annexation of Crimea. Non-interference in the affairs of a sovereign state seemed to be a principle on which both countries found common cause and, in their view,distinguished them from the United States. Russian tensions with Europe might also strengthen China’s hand in negotiations over the price of oil and gas supplied by Russia.