Published On: Fri, Aug 30th, 2019

Russia news: Why China and Xi Jinping could turn on Vladimir Putin | World | News

China has been looting the world’s largest forest in Siberia for years as a means to obtain valuable timber to supply their economic boom. The resource-rich, scarcely populated region has become an obsession for China at the approval of Putin. However, Beijing’s activity has depleted Siberia’s logging towns and sparked tensions between Moscow and Beijing.

Putin struck several trade deals with his Chinese counterparts following the imposition of Western sanctions on Moscow in 2014.

In doing so, he has gone some way to reigniting the Moscow-Beijing alliance that was last at its peak just after World War 2.

Russia has allowed Chinese loggers and investors access to Siberia – as one million hectares of land has been set aside for Beijing’s soya bean cultivation.

Meanwhile, China has invested heavily in Siberian mining and is hoping to open two trading hubs on the Russian side of the border.

Putin and Xi - a new rivalry?

Putin and Xi – a new rivalry? (Image: GETTY)

Chinese logging in Siberia

Chinese logging in Siberia (Image: GETTY)

In return, Putin could ensure that Russia becomes China’s main gas supplier in an expanding energy market, as well as selling numerous arms to Beijing.

The two have already cooperated on arms sales – last month 100 Chinese troops were invited to Russia to learn how to use Russian S-400 missile systems.

Initially, diplomatic relations between the two were strengthened by a shared anti-Washington agenda.

The two have cooperated in South America, with Beijing allying with the likes of Argentina, while Russia courts Venezuela and Cuba.

There has also been a shared agenda with Iran and Turkey – two nations the Beijing-Moscow alliance has grown closer to amid increased tensions with the US.

Putin and Xi

Putin and Xi (Image: GETTY)

Chinese logging in Siberia

Chinese logging in Siberia (Image: GETTY)

Putin and Xi - friends or foes?

Putin and Xi – friends or foes? (Image: GETTY)

Timber exports reached £2.87billion from Russia to China last year – but environmental and trade concerns have risen in recent months.

Russia now leads the world in forest depletion – 16.3 million acres of forest were lost last year, compared to just 9.1 million in the Amazon rainforest.

Environmentalists have rallied against the alleged belligerence of the Chinese companies, but Moscow has resisted intervening for fear of ruining the Sino-Russian relationship.

However, alongside an unwillingness from the Chinese to invest in the local economy, there are fears, according to Times analyst Roger Boyes, “that Putin may have signed up as a junior partner in a dangerously unequal partnership”.

Local City Council member Irina Avdoshkevich asked local police and fire officials to intervene, but they did nothing to regulate the Chinese mills, she said.

She added: “We understand we need investment.

“But if we decided to be friends, it should be even. You get something, I get something.

“I’m a resident of this city. Why should I tolerate these waste piles, these fires?”

Chinese logging in Siberia

Chinese logging in Siberia (Image: GETTY)

Instead, she said, the Chinese timber barons simply ship as much wood as they can to China.

Workers and Siberian residents alike have also noted China’s own domestic ban of commercial logging, citing the hypocrisy in slicing down Russia’s forests.

Mr Boyes added: “To many proud Siberians, China comes across as an arch-hypocrite.

“Vowing not to be the world’s dustbin, it refused to take plastic waste from the West.

“But it has little compunction about outsourcing its own polluting practices to pristine Siberia.”

Illegal loggers are successfully skirting the few regulations that do exist, further damaging the industry.

China and Russia

China and Russia are allies for now against the US (Image: GETTY)

Eurasian expert Emanuel Pietrobon noted that the issue could be a sticking point between Putin and Xi going forward.

He said: “Both the Kremlin and civil society have a point: the former is trying to circumvent the sanctions regime by having closer relations with the world’s largest emerging economy, even if this means closing one eye to some misconduct.

“The latter experiences Beijing’s aggressiveness directly and daily, and it understands that China is using business to corrupt authorities and proceed silently to the conquest of Siberia and the Far East.

“It is a game-changing unforecasted situation that can no longer be ignored, and one that is likely to shape Russia’s future attitudes toward China.”

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