Today military actions between Russia and China hardly seem possible, but this doesn’t mean that future events might not take the opposite direction. Several questions arise in this context: does China consider the neighboring Russian lands as own territory and is going to occupy them? What could make China take this step? And what consequences could result from this?
Back in 1987 the Chinese military newspaper published the following: “border defines the residential space of a state/country and is related to inflow or outflow of all-embracing national power”. In 1988 the same newspaper wrote: ”a long-lasting and effective control over a strategic region beyond geographic borders eventually leads to transfer of the borders” (http://constructive-project.org/ru/analysis/2.htm%3E).
However, experts cannot come to a uniform agreement concerning China’s plans toward Russia.
According to a public opinion, soon Russians beyond the Ural Mountains will disappear, and by the middle of this age the Chinese in this area might amount to 10 million; this could become a pretext for China “to defend the rights of the countrymen”. In 2002 Zhanna Zainchkovskaya, a famous Russian expert in demography, said that about 200-300 thousand of Chinese might be accumulated in Russian border areas at a time. Notably, “at a time” here means that the number of Chinese permanently residing in Russia could be smaller (about 40 thousand). But according to historian and political scientist A.Lukin, in principle these warnings are “not substantiated statements which have been often rejected by experts”.
According to Andrey Devyatov, a former soviet defense intelligence officer, who worked in China for a long time and was well aware of the Chinese mentality, there is no need for Beijing to demonstrate military aggression against Russia in pursuance of Siberia and Far East. He said that these territories are strategically important for China but it will try to get hold of these territories without using a force of arms.
Alexander Khramchikhin, a Deputy Director of the Moscow-based Institute for Political and Military Analysis, has no doubts that China’s aggression against Russia is just a matter of time. “China is objectively non-viable in its current borders. […] It can not survive without expansion abroad to capture the resources and territories”. Whereas Kazakhstan and the Asian part of Russia have “huge resources and few people”.
It is obvious that China needs the economic potential of the nearest Russian territories but this could hardly solve social and economic problems of the country. War might intensify the already complicated problems and paralyze China’s economic growth.
It is worth to mention the aspect of civilization compatibility. According to one of the participants of the Internet forum from Russia “China will easily conquer the Asian Mongoloids, but how to ensure the obedience of Europeans or Russians? Domination by force of arms would be ineffective, but China cannot yet suggest a psychological system for global domination because of pure biological reasons. Ethnic differences between the countries are huge, the Chinese are not going to break the code of the European race. We will not do this either”. However there is an opinion that Siberian and Far East Russians might like the Chinese order and its regional development aspirations and that they will not resist China’s expansion. But Russians have always resisted the occupants, thus they will meet the Chinese with despite rather than with the open arms. Besides, though the Chinese are patient and hard-working, the Siberian climate is not acceptable for them and they would settle there for good only in case of emergency.
So far Beijing’s influx into Russia’s territory is of a demographic nature (the country doesn’t want to spoil relations with Moscow). It will try to invade the neighbor’s territory only if there is no major resistance, and this is possible only in case of a major crisis of the Russian statehood. This didn’t happen yet, thus, China is going to wait. In case of aggression Russia would probably be supported by America which is not interested in growing Beijing’s power.
But let’s imagine than the Chinese decide to attack. A description of the scenario of such a hypothetical conflict where nuclear weapon would hardly be used could be found in “If War Breaks out Tomorrow”. Probability of war between Russia and China. (http://almanacwhf.ru/?no=1&art=9) and “Eastern Siberia and the Far East of Russia as Prospective Chinese Sources of Raw Materials” (http://constructive-project.org/ru/analysis/2.htm).
The conclusion of the latter article is that it will take a month for China to invade relevant territories. But its authors make an assumption that Beijing would start a war only if it sure of the absence of resistance. If the events break out today, Russian forces in Siberia and Far East could stand against the Chinese attacks. According to the analysis on the Russian military potential in this region, Russia still takes precedence over China in nearly all spheres, starting from the armored vehicles to aviation. But China has a huge labor force and lots of worn-out equipment (e.g. tanks). Thus, there is no guarantee that the available Russian machinery will be able to move or fly.
Here a serious problem occurs concerning the redeployment of forces: if Russians manage to stop or at least slow down the Chinese attacks, they could throw the emergency forces and more serious arms to the front. Without any doubt, the Chinese will try to destroy communications (first of all Trans-Siberian Railway). In their turn Russians will try to complicate (by using aviation forces) movement and supply of the Chinese army. Besides, Russians might strengthen own military positions at borders in advance. But even if they are attacked unexpectedly and the Chinese invade relevant territories, they will have to take care of their control and face the resistance of local residents. A delayed conflict would mean China’s defeat, especially if Russia is supported by the US navy and air forces. Besides, Russia might also be supported by other Western countries.
Those who believe that today China can easily get hold of Siberia and Far East are not right. For China this might be a very complicated and long-lasting process, and Russian counter-attacks (plus-minus the West) would involve the country into a long-lasting conflict which would eventually undermine its forces.
In short, China needs space but it is hardly ready to occupy the lands toward the North by the force of arms. China is used to waiting and benefiting from conflicts of other countries rather than interfering into the problems. The country must grow and work for the return of Taiwan. Then we’ll see…