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Game of Thrones: From Russia With Love

The latest clash over fishing territory in Asia saw Russian coast guard ships open fire on a Chinese fishing trawler in far east Primorsky, knocking one sailor overboard as the rest were scooped up and detained. The FT reports:

During Monday’s incident one of the Chinese vessels tried to ram the Russian ship according to a Russian Coast Guard spokesman quoted on Russian news agency Interfax.

The Russian ship fired warning shots and then opened fire on the Chinese vessel, though no one was killed or injured from the shelling. The Russian spokesman said the Chinese sailor fell overboard during the collision between the two ships.

He also said that the Chinese sailors at first “resisted” Russian boarding attempts but surrendered after being fired upon.

Though China and Russia are often lumped together as an anti-Western axis in the East, Russia’s anxiety over China’s ballooning power and territorial aggressiveness is palpable, and the unstated wariness between the two countries will only become more visible as these sorts of showdowns unfold.

World history lesson: one reason that sea powers like the UK and the US do so well over the long run is that neighboring land powers are usually much more fearful of each other than of naval powers based far offshore. Russia and China have global political interests that lead them to cooperate against American initiatives in places like the UN, but when it comes to border security, territorial disputes and the duel for influence in Central Asia, it is harder for them to work together.

Putin’s Russia these days wants to shore up its position in the Far East, promoting development and a population influx into Vladivostok; it seems unlikely that over time Russia’s interest in the Far East will smooth the path for deep cooperation with Beijing.

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  • Bart Hall (Kansas, USA)

    If anything, Russia’s problem with illegal immigrants from China is worse than ours with Mexicans. In some areas of the Russian far east the Chinese population is well over 50%, and the Russian hold on that territory has always been tenuous except in times of Chinese weakness. To make things worse, many of the best Russian mineral resources are in its far east: resources China has coveted for decades.

    Now add into the mix a burgeoning population of Chinese males, unable to find a mate because so many were aborted in favor of a son, and soon to reach prime military age with few prospect for advancement beyond joining the PLA.

    The odds are good that in the joint Chinese-Russian military exercises of recent years the Chinese are far more interested in understanding Russian war-fighting techniques than they are in any long-term collaboration. The Russians would have a quite difficult time pushing the Chinese out of the Amur basin, should they wish to take it “in order to protect our people” of course.

  • RedWell

    Good observations. Territorial disputes are the most likely to lead to conflict, so along with the fact that both Russia and China are directly invested in some of the same geopolitical space, observers should be ever vigilant about getting distracted by anti-American rhetoric.

  • Kris

    “one of the Chinese vessels tried to ram the Russian ship”

    Picking on someone your own size has its drawbacks. Especially if they have a disposition similar to yours.

  • Jim.

    One wonders how much of roadless eastern Siberia has had mineral exploration adequate to get an accurate assessment of its true potential value…

    Interesting times ahead. Of course, it’s really only when the country with resources embargoes the country without, that your real resource wars begin. Free trade may be able to prevent that.

  • Jim.

    By the way– are the Russians pursuing any multilateral efforts in the Far East to counterbalane China? Last I heard Medvedev was still tweaking the Japanese over Sakhalin (sp?) Island.

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