The pandemic has already changed the course of world history, and its future consequences, such as how and when it finishes, remain unknown to us amidst a dynamic situation. However, it is possible and necessary to draw some conclusions based on what is now known on how the situation is unfolding in concrete arenas of international relations. One of the most significant of these is the Washington-Beijing-Moscow triangle, an inadequately studied aspect of which is the situation on the Russo-Chinese border.
From the start of the epidemic in China many analysts expected that the coronavirus would spread rapidly to the neighboring region of Russia, taking into consideration the extended shared border and the extensive, ongoing national-level cooperation. As a consequence, one could expect a worsening of relations between Moscow and Beijing, unfriendly measures toward each other, and even an end to the Russo-Chinese quasi-alliance. The reality turned out to be unexpected and quite remarkable. The coronavirus appeared earlier in Europe and the United States, and in Russia itself it spread from west to east. The pandemic aggravated the Sino-US confrontation to its limit, and on this basis Russia and China were even more motivated to draw closer to each other. True, this did not reduce the economic consequences which the coronavirus brought to the partners. If China apparently is emerging from a short recession having suffered the fewest losses, then Russia is awaiting its distinctive “Great Depression,” which will tie the country even closer to China—the main purchaser of Russian resources and supplier of high-tech equipment.
Here, I consider various aspects of the situation on the Russo-Chinese border associated with the spread of COVID-19. For a general grasp of the processes at work, a chronology makes it possible to reconstruct the events and reactions to them. Following that, I analyze the most
apparent effects for the regional economy and cross-border cooperation, after which it is important to examine the cooperation of China and Russia on a more global scale from the point of view of both geopolitics and long-term tendencies in both culture and society. Finally, I keep in mind that the eastern policies of Moscow are not limited to cooperation with China, and for the Russian Far East no less important as partners are Japan and the countries on the Korean Peninsula, before ending with some brief conclusions.
A chronology of events
January 21—in Mudanjiang, Heilongjiang, the first case of coronavirus infection was discovered
(a man who had returned from a trip to Wuhan).1
January 22—in Changchun, Jilin, another case of coronavirus infection was uncovered (also of a man who had returned from Wuhan).2
January 24—a majority of points for crossing the border were closed in connection with the lunar New Year’s celebrations.
January 27—China announced a prohibition on sending organized tourist groups abroad.3
January 28—the no-visa regime for the exchange of tourist groups between Russia and China was abolished.4
January 30—Russia in a unilateral manner made the decision to close its land border with the PRC.5 Russians seeking to return to their motherland had to cross the border on special flights through agreement by diplomats and officials of the local administrations.
January 31—Vladimir Putin sent a telegram to Xi Jinping with words of support.6 In Russia the virus was found in two Chinese citizens, who had returned from travel to their native country, both occurring on the periphery in Zabaikal’sk krai and Tiumen oblast’.7 Both patients quickly recovered, and their presence on Russian territory did not lead to further spread of the virus.
February 1—all air traffic between Russia and China was halted except charter flights and flights of Aeroflot between Moscow and Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou. Russians desiring to return home were evacuated by charter flights or airplanes of the Ministry of Defense.8
February 2—the first case of direct infection in a border town was found in Heihe; however, by that time the border was already closed.9
February 3—Russia closed all railroad traffic with China.10
February 3-10—a “vegetable crisis” occurred in border regions of Russia due to the closing of truck transportation from China. In Vladivostok cucumbers and tomatoes from Iran were being sold at a price several times what was customary.
February 10—truck shipments resumed across the border, ending the “vegetable crisis.”
February 20—Russia stopped entry into the country of Chinese citizens for personal, study, and tourist objectives. It ended certification of visa documents and work permits.11 Transit passengers from China through Russia continuing to other countries would still be permitted.
February 28—Russia introduced a prohibition on entry for citizens of South Korea and Iran,12 where spikes in the coronavirus have been observed (but not Italy, where the number of people infected is not fewer!). The Japanese airline JAL opened a direct route “Tokyo-Vladivostok.”
March 1—Russia introduced restrictions on air traffic from South Korea.13 Russians seeking to return home will be transported on charter flights through Vladivostok. As an exception, the two companies Aeroflot and Korean Air will continue flights between Moscow and Seoul.
March 2—In Moscow there appeared the first case of infection with the coronavirus of a Russian who had returned from Italy. However, passenger traffic from Europe persisted at full throttle.
March 5—the first actions were taken by Russian authorities in the battle with the coronavirus, with the introduction of a 14-day period of self-isolation for people returning from a number of countries, including China, South Korea, and Italy.14 The regions of Russia, however, did not take any measures.
March 11—A new work week began in Russia after a holiday dedicated to the International Day in Defense of the Rights of Women. At that time Russia still had only registered 24 cases of infection, and all had brought the virus with them from Italy. The disease was beginning to spread through the regions in the European part of the country.
March 17—the first case of the coronavirus was found in the Russian Far East in Yakutia (stricken was the general director of a large company, who was returning home from Switzerland.)15
March 18—Russia stopped entry into the country of all foreigners except persons with permanent residency, diplomats, transit passengers, and transport workers.16
March 19—a telephone conversation took place between Putin and Xi Jinping.17
March 20—the first three cases of the coronavirus were found in Khabarovskii krai (all three arrived from Italy).18
March 23—air traffic with Japan was halted,19 including the new flights of a Japanese company having operated for less than a month, Russians could depart through charter flights of the company “Sibir’,” and, as an exception, the route “Moscow-Tokyo” operated by Aeroflot continued.
March 24—the first two cases of the coronavirus were uncovered in Primorskii krai (tourists arriving from Italy and Mexico.)
March 25—the general consul of the DPRK in Primorskii krai shifted to a regime of total self-isolation, in which North Korean citizens present in Russia on student visas (about 3000 persons) would receive legal permission to extend their stay abroad.
March 27—Russia cancelled all regular and charter flights abroad.20
March 28—in connection with a rise in cases of “import” coronavirus from abroad, authorities in China introduced a temporary stop to issuing visas and entry of foreigners into the country, also revoking the use of visa-free transit on Chinese territory.21 Entry into China of citizens of the PRC returning to their homeland continued.
March 30—A stay-at-home regime was introduced throughout Russia.
April 2—the coronavirus was found in two Chinese returning from Russia, transiting through Moscow, Vladivostok, and the crossing point of Pogranichnyi-Suifenhe.22 These were the first cases of “import” of the virus at the Chinese border from a neighboring country. At that time in the province of Heilongjiang only 19 cases had been registered.
April 6—the coronavirus was confirmed in 20 more Chinese returning to China from Moscow through the Russian Far East. Unilaterally, China closed border points for truck transport. The total number of cases in Heilongjiang had climbed in less than a week from 19 to 64.23
April 7—unilaterally, China closed the crossing point of Suifenhe for passenger trips but opened it for truck transit.24
April 10—Russia introduced a ban on the export of certain agricultural products, including soybeans and rice, most of which (40 and 90 percent respectively), are produced in the Russian Far East.
April 13—Unilaterally, China closed for entry from Russia all crossing points,25 having previously arranged a system of entry for returnees to China through special agreement with authorities.
April 16—a telephone conversation took place between Putin and Xi Jinping.26
April 23—the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the border province of Heilongjiang reached 370,27 (of which 57 were “local” and the rest imported—mainly from Russia), bringing the province at that moment into first place in China in the number of infections.28 In the Russian Far East the official number of infections was 906.
April 30—the number of declared cases in Russia had reached 100,000, exceeding the total known to be infected in China over the entire period.
Paradox of a world periphery
One of the main conclusions which can be drawn from the COVID-19 pandemic is that it redrew the map of the world, which at one time was drawn as the “world core” and “world periphery” in accord with the terminology of Immanuel Wallerstein. According to that older conception, Europe could be closer to China than, for example, were Central Asia or the Russian Far East. The virus originated in Wuhan in November-December 2019—a city at the juncture of the main transportation arteries of China—and spread, above all, along routes through which passed intensive economic and humanitarian contacts. Specialists calculated that in December on the order of 900 persons from Wuhan left for New York, 2200 to Sydney, and, most of all, 15,000 to Bangkok, where occurred in mid-December the first substantiated cases of infection outside of China.29 Tourists and migrant workers in the global economy (in this case, mainly “white collar” ones such as English language instructors, students, and managers in trans-national companies, who are regulars at airports and train stations) were the carriers of the virus. On the sidelines of the process in the first month of the epidemic was the periphery—the less-developed countries of the “third world” and distant regions, the ties with which were much less intensive despite geographical proximity. In China itself, we can include in this category regions in which live the national minorities: Tibet, Xinjiang, Ningxia, and Qinghai. In Tibet, throughout this time, only one case of infection was registered, and fewer than 100 in the remaining designated areas. As of mid-April, only 107 cases had yet been registered in Jilin, located on the borders of Russia and the DPRK. What is happening is not only unprecedented control measures or possible falsification of statistics, for which it is not unreasonable to suspect Chinese authorities, but for the simple fact that the economic and social contacts of Central China with the outskirts are tightly limited. Indeed, Xinjiang long has been positioned in Chinese propaganda, as it is today, as a key link in the “New Silk Road,” but, it turns out, intensive contacts between China and its continental neighbors, despite all of the rhetoric of “Belt and Road,” remains incomparable to its contacts with the “world core:” North America, Europe, and Australia. The same can even be said of Northeast China and its contacts with the Russian Far East.
The Russian Far East shares a more than 4000 km border with the PRC, and one might assume that it would be first to fall victim to the coronavirus. This did not occur although the land border with China was closed only on January 31—a month after official awareness by Chinese authorities of the epidemic in Wuhan—and the full ban on entry by Chinese citizens did not occur until later. This is proof of the thesis about the very low mobility of cross-border contacts—especially in the winter period. In winter the flow of tourists slows, and those trips that occur mainly connect nearby border cities and only formally constitute “tourism”—in fact, under the guise of tourism suitcase trade is conducted, transporting goods for personal use. These contacts did not result in an increase in infections for the simple reason that the virus from Wuhan had not reached small, border towns, by reason of their peripheral location.
Only in Heihe—opposite the Russian city of Blagoveshchensk—were several cases registered. In another important trade center Suifenhe the virus appeared only in April due to the fact that it was introduced from Russia. In Hunchun there are no official cases of infection. Cross-border business contacts are minimal. As a rule, they occur through seasonal migration connected to holidays: the New Year’s period when Russians residing in China leave for Russia, and the Lunar New Year when Chinese residing in Russia return to China. Student exchanges are similar. Those from China studying in Russia remained in Russia during the January vacation time, and those who left later in January for the lunar New Year could not return due to the beginning of the restrictions; so they could not become carriers of the infection across the border.
Paradoxically, the virus reached the Chinese border through a roundabout route: first it went from Wuhan to Europe, then from Europe to Russia (its European part), then from Russia along with the returning migrants to China. In April, Heilongjiang province rose to first place in China in the number of current cases of the coronavirus—and the dominant share of these had been introduced from Russia.
The situation in Central Asia evolved similarly. The first case of infection in Kazakhstan arrived from Germany, and in Kyrgyzstan from Saudi Arabia. There were no official cases of the virus reported in Tajikistan and Turkmenistan—the two most peripheral and closed countries of the region (and most inclined to falsify official statistics). Thus, when we speak of the impact of the virus on the Russian-Chinese border, we should not forget that we are analyzing cooperation between two peripheries of their countries, which is not distinguished by great intensity. So, the negative effects of the downturn due to the pandemic is not so critical.
A closed border: economic effects
Effects for China
The dependence on the Russian side from transport cooperation is, on the whole, greater; therefore, the losses will be greater precisely on the Russian side. The border trading centers in China (Manzhouli, Heihe, Fuyuan, Suifenhe, Dongning, and Hunchun) have gradually reduced their dependency on Russian tourists and purchasers), beginning in 2014 when the value of the ruble fell sharply, and Chinese goods and services simply became inaccessibly expensive for Russians. All these years the urban economies were sustained through transfers from Beijing and the provincial budgets since Russian investments and workforce were absent.
It is apparent that the policy of state subsidies will be continuing; so only distinct categories of the population will suffer from the closing of the border with Russia. Among them:
- organizers of purchases of Russian products and their subsequent sale to Chinese through electronic trading platforms (Taobao, JD.com, etc.), conducting commercial transactions under the guise of tourist exchanges;
- organizers of labor migration from Chinese border villages to Russia;
- purchasers of various categories of Russian products, the export of which has temporarily been prohibited (above all, soybeans, rice, and corn);
- owners of hotels, restaurants, and entertainment establishments for Russian tourists, which over the past five years have found themselves in crisis, but today’s situation probably will finally drive them out of business;
- owners of tourist firms which are engaged in formalizing non-visa groups, since restoration of such exchanges will occur no earlier than 2021.
Loss of income by these categories of the population will not lead to notable social upheavals. This is true because the Chinese border has survived through closed borders without any special problems—especially if we consider Harbin, Changchun, Daqing, and Qiqihar, and other major cities of Northeast China, the integration of which into Russo-Chinese cooperation has been minimal. To be sure, all international projects have been put “on hold.” International activities, including the Harbin fair and the Russo-Chinese EXPO (this year it was supposed to be held in Ekaterinburg), have been postponed to 2021. (The same holds for the Eastern Economic Forum in Vladivostok.) However, all these activities were minimally connected to real trade and economic exchanges, serving more as sacred activities for central and regional officials than as engines of cross-border economic cooperation.30
Effects for Russia
The consequences for the economy of the Russian Far East need to be separated into two distinct categories: 1) for big cities, which are centers of international cooperation (Vladivostok and Blagoveshchensk); and 2) for the remaining populated points. It is necessary to realize also that there was a positive statistic for foreign trade in the first quarter of 2020 (increasing by 3.4 percent and reaching $25 billion),31 which is explained by an increase in the sale of crude oil and does not directly influence the economic situation in the border areas.
In the second category of localities all is relatively simple. Since the vast majority of population centers in the Russian Far East have scarcely depended on economic cooperation with China, the closing of the border has not caused any notable effects. However, they are suffering from the overall economic recession in Russia and the cutbacks in subsidies. Ahead, this will result in an even greater outflow of the population of the Russian Far East to European Russia and the “ghettoization” of various cities,32 which previously existed on account of factories and mines, already having closed down, and in recent years surviving only by virtue of subsidies from the federal center. The scale of the cuts in financial support from the state budget is still unknown, but it will be substantial since resources will be redirected to the battle with COVID-19 and to support for business in the most developed cities, above all Moscow.
The pandemic struck a blow to Russia against the background of a drop in demand for oil and of prices for energy, fraught with an economy falling into recession with unpredictable impact. The negative consequences for Vladivostok and Blagoveshchensk along with the overall recession will be connected to the pandemic and closed border. Already in mid-April most local hotels, restaurants, and tourist destinations were on the edge of bankruptcy, including stores selling jewelry and marine products. In Blagoveshchensk they were oriented exclusively to Chinese guests. In Vladivostok the situation was more complex since there was more dependence on Korean tourists. Chinese were more numerous but mainly used the services of Chinese businesses, while the arrival of Korean and Japanese tourists also had stopped. Owners in Vladivostok say that no more than 50 percent of existing restaurants will survive the crisis due to the pandemic. The measures the state takes to get out of the quarantine regime33 will not make it possible to quickly restore their activities even after the borders are open, while access by local residents to restaurants will also be limited. Moreover, the restaurant business in Vladivostok was one of the engines of local economic development, an important element of the urban subculture and of the pride of local inhabitants.34
Enormous losses will be suffered by owners of apartments which have been rented to foreign (above all Korean) tourists. Many of these were purchased and remodeled on credit, but they now stand empty and can expect a wave of personal bankruptcies. Distinct from legal business, these landlords, operating grey businesses, cannot count on support from the state.
At the regional scale, those who will suffer the most are companies depending on luring a Chinese workforce and having no prospect of replacing them with local residents or migrant laborers of the EEU. Among all the regions of the Russian Far East the most critical situation is in the Jewish autonomous region. Here, on account of the widespread practice of informal subleasing, Chinese business is working up to 80 percent of the cultivated land,35 and local labor does not suffice. However, this is the smallest region, and the situation, on the whole, is not a cause for alarm. So too is the situation in Amurskaia oblast’, where already for several years the quota for attracting foreigners to agriculture has been lowered almost to zero,36 and Chinese are present only as buyers of Russian farm products. That will be the situation seen also in Primorskii krai from 2020 since the decision was made to eliminate the quota for foreign workers in farming and logging,37 even before the restrictions linked to the pandemic.38
Probably, before long, this will lead to the ruin of small operations in villages short on local labor and also operations growing greenhouse vegetables, labor-intensive work typically undertaken by Chinese. Otherwise, rejection of Chinese farm labor will hardly be a fatal blow to the region. After the drop in the ruble in 2014 the flow of Chinese seeking to leave for work in Russia fell to a minimum without restrictions. China’s general consul in Vladivostok in March 2020 had approached the Primorskii government for an exception to allow 200 workers from Dongning xian in Heilongjiang to come for agricultural work; however, in light of the virus, the Chinese themselves reconsidered. In other words, 2020 will be a milestone putting the finishing touches on a more than 30-year history of active participation of the Chinese workforce in the development of the economy of the Russian Far East.39
In the sphere of logging capital and workers from the PRC were, as a rule, not permitted even before the coronavirus. Construction firms from China, who have been present in the main cities of the Russian Far East, presumably, will depart from the market: business will become difficult without Chinese construction workers, and new rules for “shared construction” require leaving money on deposit in Russian banks and observing stricter legal and financial procedures. Chinese construction companies, as a rule, are not inclined to do that. However, this will not be a big loss for the region as a whole since these companies comprised only a fraction of the market.40 Moreover, one does not count the new Chinese residents of the free ports of Vladivostok and the territories of advanced development, in which most investment comes from the European part of Russia and offshore—from the PRC comes 2-4 percent of the corresponding residences,41 meaning that the problems will not be critical.
The pandemic has made more complicated problems that previously were not considered part of a positive agenda of international cooperation. The main blow of the coronavirus was to globalization and US world leadership. Accompanying the virus was a rise in xenophobia and a crisis in processes of integration:
In January-February 2020 severe xenophobia was directed at Chinese, who throughout the world were perceived as guilty for the emergence of the coronavirus and the transmission of this dangerous contagion. The most dramatic episodes were linked to countries where there were many Chinese tourists (e.g., Italy) or where many Chinese migrants resided (Australia, Canada, the USA). The Russian Far East, despite its geographical proximity, is not among them. In winter in its cities can be found only a small number of Chinese, who have continuously operating businesses (restaurants, stores, barber shops), many of whom, along with the majority of students, had left for the lunar New Year’s. When expectations of an epidemic had become a reality, there were simply too few Chinese in the Russian Far East for the arousal of any kind of xenophobia. In my experience living in Vladivostok, during these months people kept going to Chinese restaurants and buying products at small Chinese stores without any sign of dissatisfaction with the presence of Chinese.
Some expression of dissatisfaction was directed only at Chinese students who did not succeed in returning to Russia from their vacation due to the extreme restrictions on entry.42 Now, for example, of the 2000 Chinese students at the Far Eastern Federal University a maximum of 10 percent are in the dormitories, and even they do not go to lectures, given that the university has shifted to on-line instruction. Judging by articles in the mass media,43 in the cities in the European part of Russia relations with Chinese are more strained, however there is no basis to speak of discrimination targeted by the state.44
In March and April when it became clear that the pandemic was spreading more dramatically in the West than in China itself, the situation changed. Now Chinese began to exhibit xenophobic attitudes toward foreigners—partly in retribution for the discrimination in prior months and partly from real fear of being infected by foreigners. Xenophobia escalated on April 1 with news that a 47-year old Nigerian infected with the coronavirus bit a nurse in a Guangzhou hospital while trying to flee.45 In the responses of Chinese society, apparently condoned by city authorities, not only Africans but foreigners in general, including Russians, suffered.46 If we judge by the statement of the US consulate,47 severe xenophobia was directed at those with dark skin, who were refused service in restaurants, evicted from rented apartments, and forced into two-week quarantines in hotels, for which they had to pay the tab.
The epicenter of these attitudes was the southern province of Guangdong. Data on similar excesses in Northeast China are absent both on social networks and in the reports of the general consul of Russia in Harbin.48 The precipitous increase in the number of infected people in April due to the “import” of the virus from Russia, as far as I can determine, did not lead to Russophobic attitudes, given that all of the cases were brought in by Chinese citizens, although there are opposite assessments, as in the Guardian,49 whose reporting sought to find in the situation taking shape in Heilongjiang signs of a future split between Russia and China. Official statistics of mid-April in that province still showed no cases of an infected Russian. Indeed, in the cities of Northeast China few Russians are living, and those there for study or work (as teachers of English or serving in restaurants and clubs), in January had mostly returned to Russia. Thus, xenophobia had not become a noticeable factor capable of impacting the Russo-Chinese quasi-alliance.
The crisis of integration and Eurocentrism
Another tendency under way is the transformation of globalization (Samir Saran called this process “gated globalization”50 and the “return of borders.”) Throughout the world borders from quite abstract lines turned again into “walls,” the main function of which is to separate sovereign states and all of the rest of the world. In January-February all countries affected by the virus (or panicking in anticipation) closed their borders. If this was done with reference to special circumstances, the very fact can unravel many of the accomplishments of the processes of integration, especially free cross-border movement. The pandemic also put on pause many processes toward the liberalization of visa regimes. Visa-free exchanges of tourist groups with China were suspended (apparently, for several years), as was the visa-free regime with South Korea. A rollback occurred in talks for a visa-free regime with the PRC and Japan. Clearly, there will be no extension of the electronic visas to Russia, now operating for citizens of a number of countries for visits to the ports of Vladivostok, Saint Petersburg, and Kaliningradskaia oblast’.51
The dynamics of border closing in the Russian Far East were revealed in the chronology of the simultaneous closures with Asian neighbors (the PRC and South Korea) at the first sign of the virus’ appearance, whereas with Europe it was done with substantial delay for reason of a cascade of sicknesses in Russia (in which infections have already exceeded those in China). Noticeable in this “slowness” is the influence of a Eurocentric view of the world, which exists for the majority of Russian society. From the point of view of a change in consciousness, there was no evidence of the “turn to the East” proclaimed by Moscow; in a crisis situation Russia persisted to the end to interact with Europe when all contacts with Asia were quickly cut and without noticeable regrets.
However, one surmises that a comparison of how the coronavirus spreads in Europe and the countries of East Asia (the PRC, Taiwan, South Korea, Japan) is leading to a reevaluation of the Eurocentric model of consciousness since, in the view which has spread in Russia, Asia has dealt with the epidemic better. Consequently, a second round of the “turn to the East” should prove more effective. As to whether it will happen, there is no doubt. Proof of that is: first, economic circumstances (China is the main purchaser of Russian resources)52; and second, geopolitical circumstances.
The foundation of foreign policy is driving Russia and China ever closer.53 The aggressive rhetoric coming from Washington further complicates Sino-US relations, and correspondingly increasingly justifies the decision of Moscow and Beijing to not waste resources on opposition to each other, but to unite in a strategic, conditionally “anti-Western” quasi-alliance. In the Sino-US confrontation, it seems, the “point of no-return” has already been reached, and the pandemic is, of course, not the first reason but a contributing factor. This “new cold war” (this time between Washington and Beijing) is hardly likely to end quickly. Therefore, the closeness between Russia and China has a long-run character, since specific excesses of the type of too strict surveillance of Chinese citizens on the streets of Moscow,54 will not be an important factor for Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, who amid change in international conditions continue to exchange phone calls and promptly resolve problems that arise, which is clear from the chronology of contacts whenever troubling moments in bilateral relations occurred. The first time Putin sent a telegram with words of support for China right after the decision to close the land border with the PRC. Then he called after closing the entire Russian border, and later after news of the return home of a large number of Chinese infected with the virus in Russia. Thus, the expectations of some experts motivated by subjective emotions,55 that against the backdrop of the coronavirus relations between Russia and China would cool are groundless. The quasi-alliance is serious and long-lasting.
The Russian Far East does not only border with China
Vladivostok suffered more from closing the border with Korea than with China since in 2018-19 all local hotels and restaurants had reoriented to welcoming Korean tourists. Facilitating this was the visa-free regime between the countries, the launching of many direct flights, and the special mode of spending a weekend in the city, which became for Korean tourists the nearest “European city,” also having a wide assortment of restaurants and low prices. Moreover, in 2020 the city awaited a significant increase in Japanese tourists, encouraged by three factors: 1) successful functioning of a system of electronic visas for nationals of Japan; 2) the opening of direct routes from Tokyo for JAL and ANA; and 3) active promotion of Vladivostok as a tourist destination in Japanese journals.56
Direct routes for Japanese airlines (previously only Russia carriers flew) was the result of talks that took several years, in accord with an agreement between the two leaders at the Eastern Economic Forum in September 2019. With the pandemic, JAL suspended flight only just begun, and ANA did not begin flying on March 29, as planned. Given the caution Japanese companies show toward new projects, the setback could last for several years.
On the plus side, 3000 North Koreans in higher education institutes of the Russian Far East were given legal authorization to extend their stay in Russia for an indefinite period. We cannot say for sure, but it is fully probable that some of them are using this opportunity for work activity (North Koreans in Vladivostok, Ussuriisk, and Khabarovsk previously were actively employed in construction and home repairs. Give the difficulties that Chinese businesses now face due to problems in attracting a Chinese workforce and also the expected wave of bankruptcies in the hospitality business, new opportunities will be created for increased investment from Japan and South Korea. These US allies recently have taken contradictory positions: on the one hand, seeking to counter China and find ways to strengthen themselves in the economy of Eastern Russia; on the other, after 2014 having many investment deals with Russian partners blocked by US sanctions. The Sino-US trade war will make the task of weakening China more urgent than that of opposing the development of the Russian Far East.
For Japanese and South Koreans, a positive agenda of cooperation has resulted in fewer concrete projects than for Chinese, which can be explained by two factors: first, high standards for analyzing risks, especially Japanese taking decades to decide; second, the absence of informal ties with Russian counterparts, unlike Chinese who from the 1990s conducted business with Russian colleagues, forging a firm foundation for most cross-border investment deals. South Koreans can lean on “Russian Koreans,” who are numerous and successful in business and play an important role in the economies of Primorskii krai and Sakhalinskaia oblast’. Besides, investors from Japan and South Korea have the competitive advantage of not raising alarm, given their positive reputation in Russian society and with authorities. Concretely, they can invest in hotels (as tourism revives), greenhouse vegetables and fruits, and marine culture.
The Russo-Chinese border is now much less affected by the pandemic than would be expected given the geographical proximity due to the low intensity of contacts both between the center of China and its outlying provinces and between the Russian and Chinese peripheries. Besides, Russian authorities issued timely limits on movement between Russia and other Asian states, unlike with European states due to Europocentric consciousness and much closer ties to Europe. Comparisons of the spread of the epidemic in East Asia and Europe do not favor Europe, which could enable a crisis of Eurocentrism. Worsening Sino-US relations and an absence of notable conflicts between Russians and Chinese in the period of the pandemic will facilitate Russia and China drawing even closer. The Russian border area will suffer much more from the economic impact of the crisis, especially the tourist business, notably a halt in visitors from South Korea. The loss of Chinese labor is the biggest blow to the economy of the Russian Far East, leading to bankruptcy and withdrawal from the market of lots of Chinese companies and workers in farming and construction, while opening opportunities for Japanese and South Korean business.
Although a sharp drop in oil prices has weakened Russia’s economy and will reduce the value of exports to China, developments in the first months of 2020 are, on the whole, giving a boost to Sino-Russian relations. Low oil prices will actually serve to increase Russia’s dependence on China, as economic integration with other countries frays. As the Sino-US relationship continues to deteriorate rapidly without improvement in the badly troubled Russo-US relationship, Russia will side even more firmly with China. In the Russian Far East, there may be some compensation through the revival of ties to South Korea and Japan, with which tourism was just beginning to look promising. However, no breakthrough is in sight to impact the overall geopolitical trends.
23. https://zh.wikipedia.org/wiki/ 2019冠状病毒病黑龙江省疫情