Chita: China’s Back Door to Russia

Discussion in 'China' started by arya, Mar 4, 2013.

  1. arya

    arya Senior Member Senior Member

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    CHITA, Zabaikalsky region — If you bend down and look closely at the paving tiles on Chita's main square, you will notice that they have Mandarin lettering inscribed on them.

    In this southern Siberian city you are never far away from a reminder of China, and the most important crossing on the Chinese-Russian border is less than 500 kilometers away.

    Chita is the point at which the Trans-Manchurian railway, which travels across northern China and finishes in Beijing, diverges from the main Trans-Siberian line. Trains going to China pass through the border town of Zabaikalsky, the only rail link between Russia and China, and the channel for about 70 percent of the trade between the two countries.

    In the city itself, which is 6,200 kilometers east of Moscow, all the consumer goods for sale are likely to be of Chinese manufacture; Chinese is taught in schools; Chinese food is common; And locals who can afford it are more likely to take a vacation by the Yellow Sea than the Black Sea.

    While there is no obvious flood of Chinese migrants, the economic footprint of the East is felt almost everywhere in Chita: from the manual laborers employed in the construction industry to the right-hand drive vehicles imported from Japan.

    Even lucrative contracts to build the elaborate ice palaces, where local children play during the winter months, are awarded by the local government to Chinese companies.

    Some even claim that Chita and the Zabaikalsky region of which it is the capital, are little more than a commercial hinterland feeding China's booming manufacturing industry and growing population.

    In just one example, high levels of logging in the surrounding region — at great environmental cost — are sustained almost solely by Chinese demand.

    Under the Soviet Union, Chita was a closed city because of its proximity to the highly militarized border zone. But since a series of treaties between the two countries in the late 1990s and 2000s, the area's strategic significance has been downgraded.

    In a blow to Chita's military pride, then-President Dmitry Medvedev dissolved the Siberian Military District, of which Chita was the capital, in 2010. Chita and the surrounding area are now part of the Eastern Military District that has its headquarters in Khabarovsk.

    Locals whisper that the huge, pale-yellow building on Chita's main square that used to house the headquarters of the Siberian Military District is now half-abandoned, even haunted.

    Alongside the fading military traditions of a border city, Chita is also closely associated with famous prisoners and prisons, of which there are a large number in its vicinity.

    The city clings to its historical link with the Decembrists — the revolutionary aristocrats who were banished to Siberia by Nicholas I after their failed 1825 insurrection. And jailed billionaire Mikhail Khodorkovsky did a stint in a prison colony near the uranium-mining town of Krasnokamensk to the south of Chita.


    Read more: | The Moscow Times
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