Will China attempt to retake Asian Russia instead of Taiwan?

As Russia becomes weaker, Xi Jinping may give up Taiwan to take over eastern Russia – writes Craig Hooper, a senior contributor to Forbes magazine and part-time US national security analyst. 

China’s leader Xi Jinping, emerged more powerful than ever as the Communist Party Congress showed. What remained of the internal opposition was ceremoniously escorted out of the room after he was elected to a third five-year term. As Xi’s support base grows, the West is expecting a military clash over Taiwan, a vital link in the Pacific’s strategic “first island chain,” as a result of Xi’s uncompromising stance toward China’s territorial ambitions.

Taiwan is a clear target for Chinese territorial expansion. Taiwan, which has been self-governing since 1949, views itself as an independent nation whereas China views it as a rebel province. President Xi, for his part, anticipated that the two countries would reunite no later than 2049, using that deadline as motivation for significant military reforms and a hasty modernization. Some pessimistic Western analysts worry that China has hastened the “timeline” for annexing in response to demographic and economic challenges and may take decisive military action in the coming years to seize the rebel region.

Before Russia’s disaster in Ukraine, China and Russia vowed to have an unrestricted friendship. However, both nations are aware that friendship treaties are unstable. Less than 20 years after their final friendship pact, China and the Soviet Union fought a series of violent border clashes. The current thaw between Russia and China might quickly crumble in the face of expansionist Chinese nationalists and China’s growing, barely veiled contempt for Russian weakness.

The ground is in place for a “renegotiation” of the border between China and Russia. The “formal” conclusion, such as it is, to the dispute between China and Russia over their shared border has only been reached in 2008. China could easily use a pretext to invalidate present agreements, asking that Russia restore Vladivostok and some 23,000 square miles of former Chinese territory it has controlled since 1860, for a centuries-old border battle that precedes the formal existence of both countries.

The idea of seizing an island in the Pacific Ocean may seem ridiculous, if to the north, across the Heilongjiang River (Amur), there are vast unexplored spaces, and even taken away, as the Chinese themselves believe, as a result of unfair treaties.

In August 1689, in Nerchinsk (today it is a town of 14,648 inhabitants, 335 km east of Chita on the M-58 “Amur” highway to Boli’ (Russian Khabarovsk) and 5 km from the Priiskovaya station on the Trans-Siberian Railway), negotiations between delegations of Peter I and the Kangxi Emperor, who headed the Qing Empire, took place. The envoy of the Kangxi Emperor, Minister Songotu, demanded to draw the border so that not only the Amur region with Albazin but also the entire Pacific coast of Siberia up to the Cape Dezhnev would go to China. Then, due to the language barrier and misunderstanding of the court ceremony and office work, each side remained in its opinion that they had brought a profitable agreement, although none agreed to territorial concessions. 

In 1860, taking advantage of the weakness of the Qing Empire, which had suffered crushing defeats in the Opium Wars, Russian diplomats secured the signing of a treaty under which Emperor Yi recognized the lands north of the Amur River and east of Usuri for Russia. Thus, Russia, promising mediation in negotiations with Britain and France, of course by deception, lured the lands on which it founded the port of Haishenwei (Russian: Vladivostok) – its outpost on the Pacific Ocean. 

The topic of these treaties constantly comes up when talking about Russian-Chinese “friendship”. Back in 1964, Mao Zedong in a conversation with Japanese socialists, which they later told the press, said the following: “The territory of the Soviet Union is already too large, more than 20 million km2. The population is only 200 million. You, the Japanese, have a population of more than 100 million, and the territory is only 370 thousand km2. More than 100 years ago, they cut off the lands east of Lake Baikal, including Boli, Haishenwei, and the Kamchatka Peninsula. They never paid us for it”. 

It makes sense for China to attempt to retake Asian Russia. Taiwan gives China little more than conflict, whereas efforts to drive Russia out of Asia through diplomatic or other means give the hungry and expansionist Chinese state considerably more lucrative possibilities, Craig Hooper writes on Forbes.

Will the time come for the Russians in the near future to pay the bill? Craig Hooper believes that yes, such a time is coming.

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