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Latest update : 2012-10-01

Is Siberia becoming Chinese?

Since the fall of the Soviet Union, more and more Chinese citizens have settled in Siberia, looking for new opportunities. France 24's reporters went to Blagoveshchensk, where one of the oldest Chinese communities in Russia is well-established, but where some Russians are very much uneasy with the Chinese presence.

The Siberian city of Blagoveshchensk is located over 8,000 kilometres from Moscow, but barely 800 metres from China. The two countries are only separated by the Amur river. In winter, when it freezes over, the Amur can be crossed on foot.

Until 1989, “Blago”, as the locals call it, was a closed city, off-limits to foreigners. These days it symbolises the growing Chinese influence in Russia’s Far East. Large parts of the economy have been taken over by the Chinese. Farmlands - abandoned former collective farms - are mostly run by Chinese migrants. Mixed marriages are common, and Chinese is the most popular foreign language, taught from school up to university.

The two communities live side by side in relative harmony, although some Russians are not so happy about this Chinese “invasion”. Some find themselves shut out of the labour market due to competition from Chinese workers, who are paid considerably less. These Russian workers complain of a “yellow peril”.

Despite these xenophobic remarks, the Russians in Blagoveshchensk need the Chinese. The locals here remember that not so long ago, Chinese products helped them to cope with the post-Soviet Union transition. These days, it’s thanks to Chinese entrepreneurs - like those we interviewed in our report - that the Russian economy is continuing its modernisation.

For the Russian authorities, there's no question of turning their back on their big neighbour. Indeed, a new bridge will soon be built over the Amur to connect the two countries.

By Xavier LUIZET , Ksenia BOLCHAKOVA

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