Russia must open up to revive Far East
Published: Sep 13, 2017 10:33 PM
This summer, I travelled from Manzhouli, a border city in North China's Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, to Russia's Krasnokamensk, a city whose name roughly translates as "town on red stone."

Krasnokamensk is a small Russian city with a population of around 50,000, and is about 140 kilometers away from Manzhouli.

Roads leading to Krasnokamensk are relatively flat, but streets, road lamps and buildings in the city have become worn over the years.

While there, cars ploughed through rutted roads, making a splash, as the rain had just stopped.

This is not a bustling city, with an empty downtown garden, only four or five stalls at the market and only two or three people in the church. Old-fashioned buses sometimes pass by, with just two or three passengers on them. Tranquility is the major theme of this city.

Krasnokamensk was built as a result of uranium mining in the 1960s. Statistics suggest that the city's uranium production was once 90 percent of the whole Soviet Union's, and 10 percent of the whole world's.

But now, the city's uranium is nearly exhausted and, as a result, its population keeps decreasing. Young people left the city wave after wave. It is hard to find a young person in their 20s on the street.

Krasnokamensk was the epitome of Far East development - a supply base of oil, minerals and other raw materials and resources.

With abundant oil, gas, aquatic, forest and mineral resources, Russia's Far East region was like a huge raw material warehouse for the country.

With this warehouse at its back, Russia, on the one hand, has not actively involved itself in the global industrial chain, and, on the other, will not exhaust its supplies in face of Western sanctions. During the process of industrialization, Russia's Far East functioned as a supply base, providing auxiliary services for Russia's industrial centers and manufacturing bases in Europe.

Russia always regards itself as a European country, with other European countries and the US posing as its main rivals. Talents and competitive industries are centered in the western part of the country.

Meanwhile, Russia's eastward development conforms to the country's long-term interests, as Asia has become an important engine for the world's economy.

China-Russia cooperation in the Far East is, to a large degree, the combination of China's development capability and Russia's ambition to re-rise.

But Russian President Vladimir Putin will have to alter the role of the Far East in his eastward strategy, and should at least enhance the region's status in Russia's future industry distribution. This requires the collaboration of central and local governments.

An open mind is of vital importance. But the Far East has yet to psychologically prepare itself, especially as it is not appealing to ambitious young people. Satisfactory living conditions have gradually sapped people's anticipations and hopes for development, and meanwhile raised their anxieties about opening-up.

Russia should provide young people with more opportunities and better living conditions in the Far East, and attract more export-oriented enterprises to set up manufacturing bases in the region.

This is like how China built the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone in the 1980s; opening up to the domestic market is the prerequisite to opening up to the outside world.

With an opening-up policy, both internally and externally, the Far East would attract China-included foreign enterprises and talents. China-Russia governmental cooperation can thus be transferred to people-to-people communication and collaboration.

Making itself more appealing to Russians, especially young people, is more important than foreign capital and labor in reviving Krasnokamensk.

The author is a senior editor at the People's Daily and a senior fellow at the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China. dinggang@globaltimes.com.cn. Follow him on Twitter @dinggangchina