Saturday, March 2, 2024

China eyes Russia’s Far East as Putin’s ‘History Lesson’ backfires

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Russian President Vladimir Putin‘s “history lesson” during his interview with journalist Tucker Carlson has prompted some Chinese nationalists to demand the return of the port city of Vladivostok.

On Weibo, an X-like Chinese social media platform, nationalists have scrutinized Putin’s long reflection on Russia-Ukraine relations and how it relates to their own territorial claims. Putin tried to justify the Kremlin’s decision to attack Ukraine in an interview with Carlson in Moscow on February 6.

China has a historical claim to Vladivostok, which was handed to Tsarist Russia in 1860 as part of the Treaty of Peking. Under the treaty, the boundary between China and Russia was set along the Amur and Ussuri Rivers, which gave Russia access to Vladivostok, a major port city in Russia‘s Far East.

China hasn’t officially backed Russia’s war in Ukraine, but Beijing has provided financial assistance.

In recent years, a movement among sections of Chinese nationalists has emerged, asking that Russia return Vladivostok to China. These claims have been intensified by Putin’s interview, in which he contrasted the alleged historical foundation of the Russian state, which he said dated back to the 9th century, with the “invention” of Ukraine in the 20th century.

“According to history, Russia should return us Vladivostok and vast territory stolen 100-something years ago,” Robert Wu, a social media user from China, said on X, formerly Twitter.

Beijing has officially banned using X in China, but netizens use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) to access the platform.

Another Chinese nationalist on Weibo pointed out that Russia has territories that imperial Chinese dynasties had previously controlled.

“Going further afield, today’s Mongolia and Russian Siberia were both territories of China in the Tang Dynasty with its capital in Xi’an,” wrote a Weibo user. The Tang Dynasty dates back to the 7th century.

Other Chinese experts expressed skepticism over Putin’s use of historical references in the interview.

“..historically some place belongs to somewhere can mean very little. why must we refer to the 8th or 13th century but not 220 BC? we live in the present day with laws, not the 8th century,” Zichen Wang, a fellow at the China Center for China and Globalization and a former Chinese state media journalist, wrote on X.

Newsweek reached out by email to the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment.

Russian President Vladimir Putin being interviewed by Tucker Carlson at the Kremlin in Moscow on February 6, 2024. Chinese nationalists have eyed Russia’s Far East town of Vladivostok following Putin’s interview with Carlson.

GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/AFP via Getty

The hashtag “Putin gave the first interview to an American journalist in two years” trended on Weibo, reaching sixth spot and being viewed over 36 million times.

Chinese state media has largely kept silent on the issue of Vladivostok as Beijing considers the Kremlin’s support a bulwark against U.S. influence in international affairs.

“Chinese experts noted that US political conservatives represented by Carlson have a kind of resistance and prejudice against China that comes from their ideology. President Putin’s remarks, which were based on an objective, deep and accurate understanding of China’s diplomacy, is helpful in correcting the biased understanding of China and in easing the anxiety of Western societies about China’s peaceful development,” a Beijing-based expert told Chinese nationalist outlet Global Times, on condition of anonymity.

“The West is afraid of a strong China more than it fears a strong Russia,” Putin told Carlson during the interview.

Update 2/13/24, 7:50 a.m. EST: This article was updated to reflect contacting the Russian Foreign Ministry for comment