Russian far East

Introduction: The Shadow of the Century of Humiliation and the Sino-Russian Power Dynamics

In the labyrinthine corridors of international politics, the Sino-Russian relationship stands out as a beacon of strategic partnership and historical complexity. Rooted in a turbulent past and blossoming in a pragmatic present, this alliance between two neighboring giants is underscored by a long history of both camaraderie and conflict. At the heart of their modern camaraderie lies a shared objective to counterbalance Western influence, yet beneath this surface simmers a historical context that is hard to ignore—the Century of Humiliation, a period that left an indelible mark on China’s national psyche when a large swathe of their country, an area larger than Ukraine, was absorbed into the Russian Far East.

China’s Century of Humiliation, spanning approximately from the First Opium War in 1839 to the establishment of the People’s Republic in 1949, is a narrative deeply ingrained in the Chinese collective memory. It was a time when foreign powers imposed their will through unequal treaties, territorial annexations, and military defeats. Among these foreign powers, Russia was a significant player, having acquired vast stretches of territory from China through what many in China still consider to be unequal treaties—the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 and the Convention of Peking in 1860. These treaties resulted in the loss of territories now known as the Russian Far East but historically recognized as part of Manchuria.Russia’s military invasion of Ukraine gave Beijing every reason to justify claims for Chinese territories annexed by Russia, as part of historic revision.

This historical backdrop sets the stage for a complex contemporary relationship. While Russia and China present a united front against Western policies, underlying this partnership are latent tensions and unresolved historical grievances. The immense landmass ceded to Russia includes regions rich in resources that are increasingly significant in today’s resource-hungry world. This area, combined with Russia’s sparse population in the Far East and China’s burgeoning economic might and demographic pressures, creates a dynamic that could influence future geopolitical realignments.

Today, as Russia faces demographic declines and economic challenges, China’s position has strengthened immensely. With an economy several times larger than Russia’s, China has the capability to exert significant influence in the region. Economic investments and migration trends indicate a subtle, yet persistent, shift—Chinese workers and businesses are increasingly prevalent in the Russian Far East, signaling a potential reclamation not by overt conquest but through economic and demographic dominance.

Moreover, China’s approach to its past humiliations involves a selective remembrance that fuels its foreign and domestic policies. While the national narrative prominently features the humiliations inflicted by Japan and Western powers, the narrative around Russian-acquired territories is less emphasized, perhaps to maintain the strategic partnership that currently benefits China’s geopolitical stance. However, the growing Chinese influence in the Russian Far East might suggest a long-term strategy to gradually ‘reclaim’ these lost territories, aligning with a broader vision of national rejuvenation and restoration of historical borders.

As these dynamics unfold, the Sino-Russian relationship will likely continue to be one of the most intriguing and strategically significant partnerships on the global stage. The interplay of historical grievances, demographic trends, and economic power shifts will shape not only the future of Sino-Russian relations but also the broader geopolitical landscape of Eurasia. In this context, understanding the depth and nuances of their intertwined histories is crucial for anticipating the contours of their future interactions.

Historical Background: The Unequal Treaties and the Loss of the Russian Far East

Russian Far eastThe historical relationship between China and Russia is marked by a series of treaties that reshaped the borders and destinies of these two nations, most notably during the mid-19th century. These treaties, viewed by China as symbols of national humiliation, were not mere diplomatic formalities but a vivid illustration of a power imbalance that has echoed into contemporary times.

In the words of a prominent historian, the Amur Annexation was “a devastating blow to the Qing dynasty, inflicted not by overt military conquest but through diplomatic subterfuge that took advantage of China’s internal strife and external pressures”​​. This period saw the Qing dynasty cede over one million square kilometers of land along its northeast frontier to Tsarist Russia between 1858 and 1860, a territory rich in resources and strategically significant.

These treaties—the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 and the Convention of Peking in 1860—were signed under duress, at a time when China was embroiled in the Taiping Rebellion and the Second Opium War against Britain and France. The Qing court, weakened and isolated, was forced into agreements that ceded vast stretches of territory without a single shot being fired. This act was described in the 1858 Treaty of Aigun as an agreement reached “under the shadows of coercion,” a poignant reminder of the Qing dynasty’s vulnerability​​.

The consequences of these treaties were not limited to territorial losses. They also severed China’s access to the strategic Sea of Japan, an act that was both a military and economic handicap. The integration of these territories into the Russian Empire was marked by violence and resistance, culminating in events like the 1900 Blagoveshchensk Massacre, where thousands of Qing subjects were forcibly expelled or killed. These episodes of violence are lesser-known compared to other aspects of the Century of Humiliation, yet they represent a deep wound in the historical memory of China.

Reflecting on this period, a scholar noted, “The cession of such vast territories without any military defeat symbolizes the depth of China’s weakness during the Century of Humiliation. It is a chapter that is painfully remembered and is a testament to the predatory diplomacy of imperial powers”​​. This sentiment captures the bitterness and the sense of injustice that still permeates the Chinese view of these historical events.

These treaties, and the manner in which they were enforced, laid the groundwork for a complex relationship between China and Russia. While today’s diplomatic engagements are characterized by mutual interest and strategic cooperation, the historical undercurrents of these unequal treaties continue to influence perceptions and policies. The memory of these losses plays a crucial role in China’s modern nationalist narrative and its quest for the “Great Rejuvenation of the Chinese Nation,” subtly shaping its foreign policy and its interactions with Russia.

As we look to the future, understanding these historical complexities is crucial for grasping the subtleties of Sino-Russian relations. The past, with its mix of conflict and cooperation, sets the stage for a future where old grievances may resurface, even as new alliances are forged.

Nationalist Ambitions and China’s Strategic Objectives in the Russian Far East

As China approaches its centenary in 2049, the vision of a globally triumphant China is increasingly discussed among policymakers and the public alike. A significant aspect of this envisioned triumph is the restoration of territories historically lost to Russia, a goal deeply intertwined with national pride and the Chinese Communist Party’s legitimacy. This strategic objective reflects not just a desire for economic or military supremacy but a deeper, culturally rooted drive to rectify past humiliations — a sentiment that has been reignited by current global and regional dynamics.

Reviving Historical Claims

Recent analyses, including insights from the Robert Lansing Institute, highlight that Beijing views the recovery of parts of the Russian Far East not merely as a territorial gain but as a crucial step towards realizing a historical vision of China’s greatness. The narrative pushed forward by Chinese leaders like Xi Jinping focuses on erasing the “shame” associated with historic territorial losses. Such rhetoric resonates deeply within the Chinese populace, further fueled by nationalist sentiments that are increasingly visible on social media platforms and in public discourse. As noted, prominent online voices and even casual commentators are beginning to vocally demand the return of territories like Vladivostok, using historical treaties and past injustices as justification​​.

Strategic Implications of Weakening Russian Influence

The ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the subsequent international response have significantly weakened Russia, both economically and politically. This situation presents a strategic window for China, as Russia becomes more isolated and its global influence wanes. Analysts suggest that this weakening of Russia might accelerate China’s plans to assert claims over lost territories, leveraging Russia’s diminished capacity to resist such pressures. The discourse within China, particularly among the nationalist factions, is that reclaiming these areas is not only a matter of historical justice but also of strategic necessity in securing China’s future as a dominant global power.

The Role of Nationalism in Shaping Policy

The rising tide of nationalism in China is reshaping the country’s foreign policy. The distinction between state-controlled nationalism and the more grassroots neo-nationalism is becoming blurred, with the latter gaining momentum and influencing government policy more directly. This new wave of nationalism is skeptical of passive foreign policies and is increasingly critical of any form of subservience to foreign powers, including Russia. The nationalist discourse now promotes a more assertive stance on international issues, particularly those concerning territorial integrity and national pride​​.

Potential Outcomes and Global Reactions

The pursuit of these territorial ambitions could lead to significant shifts in the international order. The global community, particularly Western nations, watches with apprehension as these developments could destabilize the already fragile balance of power in Eurasia. The United States and its allies are particularly concerned about the potential for a more aggressive China, seeking not only to challenge Western influence but to redraw borders that have long been considered settled.

In conclusion, as China continues to rise and assert itself on the global stage, the interplay between its nationalist motivations and strategic objectives will significantly influence its relationship with Russia and its neighbors. The pursuit of territories in the Russian Far East is emblematic of a broader strategy that seeks to restore national pride through the rectification of historical grievances. This development poses both opportunities and challenges for China, as it navigates its path towards becoming a global superpower while managing complex historical and geopolitical legacies.

Geopolitical and Economic Relationships: Alignments and Interdependencies

The modern geopolitical alignment between China and Russia is significantly shaped by their mutual interest in counterbalancing Western influence, particularly from the United States and its allies. This strategic partnership serves as a crucial element in the broader context of global politics, where both nations seek to assert their power and protect their interests against perceived encirclement.

According to an analysis from China’s long game with Russia | The Hill, “For now, most observers are focused on the fact that Russia sees China as a lifeline against sanctions. They note that China’s primary incentive is to undermine the U.S.-led ‘liberal world order’”​​. This statement underscores the pragmatic nature of the Sino-Russian alliance, which is rooted in mutual benefit rather than ideological similarity.

Economically, the relationship is deeply entwined with the natural resources of the Russian Far East, which are critical to China’s expansive industrial needs. The China and Russia’s Far East report highlights the potential for economic cooperation, stating, “The RFE offers both an abundant supply of industrial inputs and an outlet for demographic pressures”​​. This region, rich in oil, natural gas, timber, and valuable minerals, is integral to China’s strategy to secure necessary resources for continued economic growth.

Furthermore, the economic interdependence is emphasized by the disparity in population and development between the Russian Far East and northeastern China. The same report notes, “The three Chinese provinces that border the RFE have a combined population over 109 million people. The total Russian population of the Far East Federal District is just over 6 million”​​. This demographic imbalance suggests a natural gravitation of Chinese economic activities into the less populated and underdeveloped Russian territories, subtly shifting the economic landscape in China’s favor.

In terms of strategic investments, China has been active in developing infrastructure to ensure the steady flow of Russian resources. As outlined in the document, “Chinese entities are making significant inroads in Russia. Following the exodus of Western businesses from Russia, China began to make significant inroads into Russia and into the RFE”​​. This includes investments in pipelines and other critical infrastructure, which not only secure Chinese access to Russian resources but also bind the Russian Far East more closely to the Chinese economy.

The synthesis of these geopolitical and economic factors paints a complex picture of the Sino-Russian relationship. While it is strengthened by mutual interests in countering Western pressure, the growing economic dependency of Russia on Chinese investments and migration could lead to a shift in regional power dynamics. This interdependence might test the limits of the current strategic partnership, especially as China continues to rise as a global power.

In conclusion, the relationship between China and Russia in both geopolitical and economic spheres illustrates a partnership of necessity, where strategic interests and economic benefits drive their interactions. Understanding these dynamics is essential for any comprehensive analysis of Eurasian geopolitics and the future trajectory of global power balances.

Military and Strategic Concerns: A Balancing Act of Power and Influence

The military cooperation between China and Russia plays a pivotal role in their strategic partnership, serving as a counterbalance to NATO’s influence in Europe and the United States’ presence in the Asia-Pacific region. This alliance is not just founded on mutual economic interests but also on shared security concerns, which drive their combined military endeavors and exercises.

For the past several years, even before the Russians invaded Ukraine, Beijing and Moscow have been growing increasingly closer together as the relationship shifts ever closer into something resembling a more formal military alliance​​. This indicates a strengthening of military ties that transcends traditional diplomacy, aligning their defense strategies to address common threats and geopolitical challenges.

The video further details the operational aspects of this military cooperation: “The Russians and Chinese even flew joint patrols adjacent to the Japanese and South Korean Air Defense zones back in May of 2022, precisely when Joe Biden was visiting U.S. allies in Asia”​​. These joint patrols underscore the strategic alignment of Russia and China, demonstrating their willingness to show a united front in military terms in regions of strategic importance to both parties.

Furthermore, the importance of this military partnership is emphasized in the context of global security dynamics. The alignment helps both nations assert their influence and maintain a balance of power that checks Western military advancements. As the document explains, “This cooperation makes sense as both nations seek to assert themselves against perceived encroachments by Western powers in their respective spheres of influence”​​.

However, the military aspect of the Sino-Russian relationship also introduces complexities. While joint exercises and defense collaborations bolster their mutual security, they also raise concerns among neighboring countries and global powers about the intentions and future actions of this alliance. The balance between showing strength and avoiding the escalation of tensions becomes a delicate dance for both China and Russia.

In summary, the military cooperation between China and Russia is a critical component of their broader strategic alliance. It serves not only as a means of securing their regional interests but also as a significant element of their global strategy to counterbalance Western influence. As this partnership evolves, it will continue to influence the geopolitical landscape, necessitating careful observation and analysis from the international community.

Cultural and Nationalistic Sensitivities: The Delicate Politics of Historical Memory

The partnership between China and Russia is not only shaped by present geopolitical and economic interests but is also deeply influenced by historical narratives and nationalistic sensitivities. This relationship is complicated by China’s enduring memory of the “Century of Humiliation,” during which it suffered significant territorial losses to foreign powers, including Russia. The selective remembrance of these events plays a critical role in shaping both domestic policies and international relations.

The “Century of Humiliation” is a cornerstone of modern Chinese national identity, extensively utilized to fuel patriotic sentiment and legitimize the ruling party’s policies. However, as noted in the article from the MCLC Resource Center, there is a noticeable reticence when it comes to discussing territories lost to Russia: “In an era of revanchist territorial claims and chest-thumping nationalist rhetoric, one topic remains revealingly taboo: taking back what Russia took from China”​​. This suggests a complex interplay between remembering past injustices and managing current strategic priorities.

The same article elaborates on the nuanced approach to this historical memory: “While calls to ‘take back’ other lost Qing possessions like Taiwan are staples of Chinese nationalism, Zhou’s case shows that such revanchist rhetoric gets a frosty reception on the country’s Siberian frontier”​​. This selective memory is indicative of the broader strategy to maintain a stable and beneficial relationship with Russia, despite the nationalist undercurrents that might challenge this stance.

Furthermore, the way China handles its historical narrative with Russia contrasts sharply with its approach to other historical grievances, particularly those involving Western nations and Japan. The emphasis on Western and Japanese actions during the “Century of Humiliation” is often highlighted, while the substantial territorial concessions to Russia are less frequently discussed in public discourses. This selective remembrance is strategic, aimed at preserving the vital political and economic ties with Russia, which are deemed essential for China’s national interests.

This careful management of historical memory is also reflected in public and media discourse. Instances where this balance is disrupted, such as the social media ban of a Chinese celebrity for advocating the recovery of territories from Russia, underscore the sensitivity of this issue. The article points out, “Despite the trembling induced in some Western observers by the sight of Xi and Putin gliding toward one another… censors have had their work cut out for them keeping the bad blood between these two on-again, off-again rivals from bubbling to the surface”​​.

In conclusion, the intersection of cultural and nationalistic sensitivities with the Sino-Russian strategic partnership presents a complex landscape where historical grievances must be carefully balanced against contemporary geopolitical necessities. This balancing act is crucial not only for maintaining the bilateral relationship but also for managing internal nationalistic pressures that could potentially destabilize the delicate ties between these two powerful neighbors. As China continues to rise on the global stage, how it navigates its historical narratives with Russia will remain a critical aspect of its foreign policy and domestic governance.

Future Prospects and Challenges: Navigating a Complex Partnership

As China and Russia continue to deepen their strategic alliance, the future of this relationship is poised at a crossroads shaped by both past legacies and emerging global challenges. While the partnership offers substantial benefits to both nations, several factors could potentially strain or reshape the dynamics between these two powers.

One significant aspect to consider is the evolving geopolitical landscape. As the article from China’s long game with Russia | The Hill outlines, “the Chinese fully understand that when Putin’s war in Ukraine is over, Russia will be weakened, isolated and desperate”​​. This perception might influence China’s long-term strategy towards Russia, balancing support with an opportunistic approach to gain more influence in the Russian Far East. The potential weakening of Russia could shift the balance within their partnership, requiring China to recalibrate its approach.

Moreover, the demographic and economic pressures in Russia’s Far East present both opportunities and challenges for China. As noted, “the three Chinese provinces that border the RFE have a combined population over 109 million people. The total Russian population of the Far East Federal District is just over 6 million”​​. This disparity not only highlights the potential for increased Chinese presence but also raises concerns about the long-term demographic and political stability in the region. China’s increasing economic influence could lead to a de facto control, which might be perceived as a threat by Russia and other regional actors.

Additionally, the selective remembrance of historical grievances, as discussed in the MCLC Resource Center article, plays a critical role in shaping public perception and national policies​​. The delicate handling of the historical narrative surrounding territories lost to Russia indicates a potential area of internal conflict for China, which could influence future diplomatic engagements. Public and political pressures related to these historical issues might push for a more assertive stance in the future, potentially complicating the bilateral relations.

The sustainability of the “no limits” partnership proclaimed by leaders of both countries also comes into question. As strategic interests evolve and global economic and political pressures mount, the foundational aspects of this alliance may be tested. Both nations will need to navigate these waters carefully to maintain a beneficial partnership while addressing internal and external challenges.

In conclusion, the future of the Sino-Russian relationship is likely to be influenced by a mix of historical legacies, strategic necessities, and emerging geopolitical realities. How both countries manage these factors will be crucial in determining the trajectory of their alliance. This dynamic interplay of cooperation and competition, underpinned by deep historical contexts and future aspirations, will continue to be a significant element of global geopolitics.

Strategic Prognosis: China’s Long Game in the Russian Far East

Russian far EastThe ongoing conflict in Ukraine is reshaping the geopolitical landscape, with significant implications for the balance of power in Eurasia. As Russia faces the profound consequences of its military actions—ranging from crippling economic sanctions to a brain drain of its young professionals—its position as a global power is likely to be substantially weakened. This evolving scenario presents a strategic opportunity for China, historically both a partner and a competitor to Russia.

Russia’s Post-Ukraine War Challenges

The war in Ukraine has not only led to international condemnation and isolation of Russia but has also triggered an exodus of some of its most talented individuals. Young engineers, scientists, and technologically savvy professionals are fleeing in search of stability and opportunities abroad, depriving Russia of key human resources essential for future development. Coupled with the loss of lives and the extensive economic sanctions, these factors are poised to debilitate Russia’s innovative and economic capabilities for decades.

In this context, the weakened state of Russia could inadvertently tilt the balance of power in favor of China in the Russian Far East—a region already marked by significant Chinese economic presence and demographic influence. As articulated in various analyses, “the RFE offers both an abundant supply of industrial inputs and an outlet for demographic pressures”​​, underscoring the region’s strategic importance to China’s long-term economic strategies.

China’s Strategic Patience and Historical Claims

While China’s public rhetoric often avoids open discussion of historical grievances with Russia, particularly concerning the territories lost during the “Century of Humiliation,” this does not imply a forgetting or forgiveness of past transgressions. Chinese nationalism, deeply rooted in the recovery of lost territories and national rejuvenation, could fuel future aspirations to regain these areas.

The selective remembrance noted in discussions around the Amur Annexation suggests a nuanced approach by China—balancing its current strategic interests with long-standing historical claims. As one analysis subtly hints, “despite the trembling induced in some Western observers…censors have had their work cut out for them keeping the bad blood…from bubbling to the surface”​​. This indicates a conscious suppression of revanchist sentiments to maintain a functional partnership with Russia.

Looking Ahead: China’s Potential Moves

Predicting the future, it is conceivable that China will gradually assert more influence over the Russian Far East, especially if Russia continues to weaken economically and demographically. This could be achieved not through overt military actions but rather through increased economic integration, demographic shifts, and soft power—strategies that align with China’s typical modus operandi on the international stage.

The strategy might involve a mix of bolstering economic investments, promoting infrastructure projects that link the RFE more closely with northeastern China, and facilitating migration and cultural exchanges that shift local demographics favorably towards Chinese. Over time, these efforts could lead to a de facto economic and cultural annexation of the region, potentially reconfiguring it as an integral part of China’s sphere of influence, if not outright territorial control.

In conclusion, while the current Sino-Russian alliance serves mutual short-term strategic and economic interests, the underlying historical tensions and China’s long-term strategic goals suggest that the dynamics in the Russian Far East could shift significantly in the coming decades. As Russia grapples with the ramifications of its military engagements and international isolation, China’s quiet but persistent efforts to reclaim influence over territories once lost could very well redefine the future geopolitical contours of Eurasia.


  1. Robert Lansing Institute. (2024). China’s global triumph impossible without some parts of the Far East back. Retrieved from
  2. McCartney, M. (2024). China’s quiet push into Russia’s Far East puts Putin in a pickle. Newsweek. Retrieved from
  3. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Outer Manchuria. Retrieved from
  4. Wikipedia. (n.d.). Amur Annexation. Retrieved from
  5. Kilpatrick, R. H. (2023). On national humiliation, don’t mention the Russians. MCLC Resource Center. Retrieved from

By Alan Wood

Musings of an unabashed and unapologetic liberal deep in the heart of a Red State. Crusader against obscurantism. Optimistic curmudgeon, snark jockey, lovably opinionated purveyor of wisdom and truth. Multi-lingual world traveler and part-time irreverent philosopher who dabbles in writing, political analysis, and social commentary. Attempting to provide some sanity and clarity to complex issues with a dash of sardonic wit and humor. Thanks for visiting!

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