Thu, Jan 27, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Eastern Russia becoming wary of Chinese instability

AFP , TOKYO

Russia's far east, whose population is declining, is keeping a careful eye on neighboring China as the world's most populous country witnesses rapid economic growth, the visiting governor of the Khabarovsk region said.

"We are closely studying the development of China," Victor Ishaev said, noting that China faces "a very large number of threats which it won't be able to resolve on its own internally."

Ishaev said the threats to the country of 1.3 billion people included massive unemployment in both cities and rural areas and a lack of water and arable land, as the nation with 22 percent of the world's population has only 7 percent of the world's fertile land.

"All of this is leading to the development of business in other territories," he said on Tuesday on a visit to Tokyo.

The 13 regions of the Russian far east have lost 17.8 percent of their population since the collapse of the Soviet Union, nearly entirely due to emigration with 1.8 million people leaving since 1990, Ishaev said.

Asked whether Chinese labor could pose a threat, the governor said his region was delighted by the presence in Khabarovsk of businesspeople and tourists and welcomed workers from China, North Korea, Ukraine and Turkey.

"But I certainly don't want to say there are no problems," he said.

No more than 10,000 Chinese people head to the Khabarovsk region each year, Ishaev said.

"We are in control of this issue for the moment," he said.

"But nature hates a void. If we, that means Russia, work actively to develop the Far East, all will be fine. If we don't, all will go badly," he said.

He said the outcome of the foreign-labor issue was up to Moscow.

"The worse the [central] power carries out its functions, the more problems there will be," he said.

Russia and China reached a deal in October in Beijing to demarcate the final 2 percent of their 4,300km border under which islands in the Amur river were divided.

The governor said that "not one square meter of farmland" and "not one dacha [country home]," were handed over to China.

Nonetheless, "even if there is no economic loss, we can be starting a political precedent," he said.

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