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It seems that Xi Jinping’s move to a more openly aggressive foreign policy is extending in every direction, not just to his Southwestern neighbor India, but to his Northern ally, Russia. The PRC is now claiming past (and hinting at proper present) ownership of one of Russia’s major Pacific port cities, Vladivostok (Владивосток), on the basis of Qing rule in the territory. (For those who are unfamiliar with Chinese dynasties, the Qing were the final emperors of China and ruled from 1644 until 1912, but the territory under question was annexed by Russia in the 1860 Treaty of Beijing and Han people, who constitute(d) the majority of China’s population, had long been banned from entry by their Manchu rulers. Additionally, the Chinese Empire was not the first or last territorial entity to claim or assert ownership in the region). What does this bode for Russia and China individually, and their mutual relations?
>As a disclaimer, I understand very little Chinese, basically nothing beyond the ability to politely navigate a grocery store/restaurant and introduce myself, so my analysis will mostly fall on the Russian side of the issue, where I have a far superior linguistic arsenal. But, let’s begin by situating this (maybe) surprising turn of events within a broader context. For the sake of some minimal amount of brevity, I’ll summarize the pre-1949 relationship by saying that it was a mixed bag at the official level (borders were not firmly set in the pre and early modern worlds, and even beyond then people at a local level generally continue to interact regardless of their government’s wishes), and by the late 19th century favored Russia as the richer and more Westernized/militarily superior power.
Skipping a bit ahead, relations between the PRC and the USSR were often about as cosy as the climate of the Russian Far East. Naturally, the two largest Communist powers in the world were allies, and the Soviets sent aid to Mao when he was fighting the Kuomintang, but even then Stalin was stingy in the amounts that he sent, and as the years went on he hardly became more friendly. Mao, when he visited Russia, was made to feel like a lesser entity in all of his meetings with Uncle Joe, something that was particularly damaging to relations when the Chinese despot had such singular control, and in general the Soviets did not hesitate in displaying a paternalistic attitude towards the newer members of the Marxist-Leninist camp, encouraging technological and educational exchange programs but also emphasizing their superiority as longer standing, stricter communists and a more advanced society.