Russian President Vladimir Putin shaking hands with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Beijing, China, November 2014. (Image: Reuters)
Aleksandr Liventhal, the governor of Russia’s Jewish Autonomous Oblast, says that according to the data he has, “80 percent of the land” in that region which borders China’s Heilongjiang Province is now “controlled by the Chinese,” a statement certain to spark new fears among Russians about China’s intentions and Moscow’s failure to counter them.
Speaking to the St. Petersburg Economic Forum, Liventhal said that when he was appointed, investors came to him and said they would like to develop Birobidzhan’s agriculture but needed help because land there is divided up in complex ways thus making its exploitation difficult.
There are some Russian farmers there – after all, ethnic Russians make up nearly 93 percent of the population of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (Jews number less than one percent of the total population of just over 176,000) – but “by legal means or illegal means or various methods,” the Chinese have taken control of the vast majority of it.
Worse, Liventhal says, the Chinese owners have sown 85 percent of the land they control with soy, a plant that “kills the land,” thus further reducing the economic prospects of what is already a depressed area.
In the past, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, which Stalin set up to be a homeland for Jews from European Russia but which has never succeeded in attracting many of them, has attracted occasional attention because apart from Israel it is the only officially Jewish territory in the world.
Liventhal’s intervention in St. Petersburg is certain to make it the focus of Russian nationalist attention, with many Russians asking why the Chinese have been able to make such progress in taking control of a Russian region and even more why the Putin regime has done little or nothing to stop them.
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