Denial of unmistakable trends and of their crystal-clear predictions for the future are still de rigueur in European elite circles. This also seems to be the case in the one country to which European nationalists look up full of hope: the Russian Federation. Compared to Western Europe, immigration in Russia has a rather different character, but there as here, downplaying its foreseeable effects remains fashionable.
A few days back I attended a seminar on Russo-Chinese relations hosted by KU Leuven's think-tank for Global Governance. Professor Yana Leksyutina of St-Petersburg University presented interesting data on the trade equation between the two giants. Thus, we learned Russia's status as arms supplier is threatened by two developments: the looming end of the Western embargo against China that will bring other arms suppliers like France and Germany onto the Chinese market; and China's own increasing capability in advanced arms production.
In the energy sector, the traffic in oil and gas from Russia's Far East to China is characterized by a stark inequality: the raw material comes from Russia, but China keeps its high-tech processing entirely in its own hands and on its own side of the border. This means that Russia is to China what Africa is to Europe. Nothing in Prof. Leksyutina's diction indicated that she realized or deplored this humiliating condition for a once-proud European superpower. Has the nation that put the first man in space degenerated into a high-income but low-creativity mining estate, a kind of Congo or Saudi Arabia?
Of course, we all wanted to know about the most consequential trend of all, far more important than arms or oil: the demographic slide of the Russian people into dispersion and replacement if not extinction, at least in the historical non-Russian territories of the Far East. The beautiful blonde professor assured us, and possibly reassured herself, that nothing was going to happen. A very unlikely prediction.
The Russian population is shrinking. In the Far East, there is not only a birth deficit, but also considerable emigration to more westerly parts of Russia, or to the West. Admittedly, some of the Chinese imigrants move on westwards as well, but the main trend still is large-scale Chinese immigration, which continues unabated. In spite of China's draconian birth control policy, the world's most populous country sees its population increase by about ten million per year. It is happy enough to be rid of them.
From undoubtedly reliable documentary sources, Prof. Leksyutina knew that the Chinese state does not organize the emigration to Russia. No Chinese conspiracy there. Well, of course not, why should they? The People's Republic of China has generally observed diplomatic niceties and respected borders. Thus, it has respected British sovereignty over Hong Kong for 48 years, abiding by the agreed-upon date of 1997 for ending the concession. It has so far refrained from taking "the Republic of China on Taiwan", preferring to let trade and the Republic's pan-Chinese nationalism slowly effect an organic reintegration.
In the case of Chinese emigration to Russia, as well as to the West and to Africa, China's interests are best served by giving free rein to private initiative. Whenever a conflict arises between the interests of individual Chinese migrants and their host countries, the Chinese government gladly respects the wishes of the host country. Speaking from personal experience with Chinese immigrants in Belgium, I would say that Beijing's cooperation with Belgian authorities in cases of repatriation of unwanted immigrants is impeccable (much in contrast with some African and West-Asian countries). This puts it in good standing with host countries like Belgium, which in turn makes it easier for individual Chinese immigrants to enter and get accepted under one label or other. So, without offending anyone and without spending a budget or energy on it, China is very effectively facilitating the emigration of its citizens.
Moscow has taken some token measures, like requiring that every business in Russia be Russian-owned. This is a formality, allowing for legal constructions with Chinese ownership through Russian middle-men. At any rate, it makes no difference to the demographic evolution. Maybe Northeast Asia is better off under Chinese than under Russian control, I don't know, but either way there is no reason to expect dramatic events. To that extent, the Russian professor was right: there is no reason to fear a Chinese military conquest of the coveted resources-rich Russian Far East. The process will be gradual. One day, the Chinese will find themselves in a majority position in some provinces and elect ethnic-Chinese administrators. Technically they may remain separate from Beijing and united with Moscow, but for all practical purposes it will be a part of Greater China.
To be sure, history is full of surprises, and we should be wary of long-term predictions. On the other hand, demographics is one area where safe predictions are possible for the duration of a couple of generations. Yes, China's population growth seems bound for a standstill and maybe reversal within a few decades, but by then Russia's population will have imploded, if we may extrapolate from current evolutions. So, it is strange to see experts hurry to assure us that nothing is going to happen. I don't know just what is going to happen, but I am sure it won't be nothing.