An ice-free port near Vladivostok in Russia will be modernized and expanded in a joint-venture project by China and Russia. This expanded Zarubino Port, located only 18 km away from the Sino-Russian border, is scheduled to be in operation by 2018. The northeast of China does not have direct access to the sea, and acquiring such a port near its border was a long time desire. The goods from the Chinese province Jilin, for instance, are currently transported to Dalian Port first. A direct access to Zarubino would shorten the travel time by an estimated five days.[1] A highway between the Chinese province Jilin and Zarubino has already been built. Should the Siberian Railway terminal now located in Vladivostok end up in Zarubino and be connected to the Chinese highway from Jilin Province, trading in East Asia including Russia and the US will expand rapidly.

The Siberian and the Far East region have been proclaimed by Putin as an important developing region in Russia. Since the European nations’ energy consumption has been decreasing due to the weak economies, and the US has begun to produce shale oil and gas, Russia’s interest might be redirected to the East Asian market. The number of inhabitants in the Siberian and the Far East region accounts for only 7.49% of the whole Russian population and has been on the decline for some time. A remarkable 20% drop took place between 1991 and 2013, whereas Russia’s adjoining Chinese provinces hold a population of over 100 million. Some Chinese from these provinces are working on the Russian side, and this number is steadily increasing which causes Russia serious concerns about its national security. Hence, Russia desires sustainable development including adequate infrastructure and settlements.[2] To increase the population in the Siberian Region, impetuous industrialization is essential.

China and Russia also have been developing a connection to the North Korean port Rajin. Both nations try to maintain and further their influence in North Korea and on the Korean Peninsula in general. They obtained the right of using the port for the next decades. Russia already built a railway connection from Hasan, a Russian border town, to Rajin, thereby seemingly starting to compete with a new Chinese “silk road”. Since the Northern Sea Route has of late become a focus, access to Rajin port is indispensable.

Russia might find itself in a dilemma because modernization and economic development of the Far East and Siberia is difficult without China’s cooperation; however, the presence of China in this region is remarkably growing. Japan should not miss this opportunity to get involved in the development of this region and try to obtain long term use rights of these ports by way of investments. Business merits might not be big enough for Japan, but establishing long term security stability in this region and on the Korean Peninsula through investments and active involvement could result in great advantages for Japan. The former Japanese Prime Minister, Mori, visited Putin in the beginning of September 2014, and he carried a letter from the current Prime Minster, Abe.[3] Abe seems to try to meet Putin in November. Putin might desire to improve the relationship with Japan to gain a foothold on the Japanese energy market as well as investors for the Siberian region. This could be a good chance for both nations. It is also essential for Japanese security politics to keep a balance in East Asia.

 

About author:

 

Kumiko Ahr-Okutomo

Born in Japan.

 

She wrote her doctoral thesis, supervised by Professor Albert A. Stahel (Strategic Studies) at the University of Zurich, about power shifts in East Asia and Japan’s security politics. She is now a research associate at the Institute of Strategic Studies of Professor Stahel.

[1] People’s Daily Online: Russia has big regional goals, especially for Northeast China, September 18, 2014. [accessed : September 19, 2014] http://english.peopledaily.com.cn/business/n/2014/0918/c90778-8784185.html

[2] Mitsui Global Strategic Studies Institute: Russia no Kyokuto Hatten Senryaku (Russian Far East Development Strategy), May 2013. [accessed September 19, 2014] http://mitsui.mgssi.com/issues/report/r1305r.pdf

 

[3] Yomiuri Shinbun: Mori Motoshushou, Shikkari Taiwa to kaiteatta kiga… (The former Prime Minster Mori remembers the urge of continuing the dialogue in Abe’s letter to Putin), September 11, 2014. [accessed September 19, 2014] http://www.yomiuri.co.jp/politics/20140911-OYT1T50028.html

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