Beyond ‘natural’ pressures
This chapter describes push-pull factors of Chinese farming in the Russian Far East, going beyond simplistic demographic explanations to unpack aspects of the region’s political economy. It traces the history and evolving modalities of post-Soviet Chinese agricultural engagement in Russia’s Far East Federal District (RFE), from Chinese laborers on Soviet state-owned and collective farms in the late 1980s to private Chinese companies, state farms, and state-owned enterprises leasing large tracts of Russian land. At present, China’s involvement in the RFE agricultural sector has expanded to the degree that their land acquisitions, directly or indirectly through joint ventures with Russians, now constitute over 20% of the region’s arable land. Chinese migration and economic activity in this borderland region is often described as stemming from the ‘natural’ pressures of demographic density, and resource differentials. But while such drivers are important, Chinese agriculture in the RFE also needs to be linked to state-promoted export of Chinese surplus labor, as well as to China’s increased political and policy focus on scaled-up ‘modern’ agriculture at home and abroad. In this regard, the RFE can be seen not only as a unique periphery or borderland economy, but also as a more general case of how China’s rural economic development and agricultural modernization is playing out in international terms.