Why Russian city Vladivostok’s founding day celebration made the Chinese criticise Russia on social media

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Published: July 7, 2020 1:12 PM

Shen Shiwei, a reporter for the state-owned broadcaster CGTN said that the celebration of the founding day of Vladivostok reminded the Chinese of "those humiliated days in the 1860s."

The region which falls in the Southeastern part of Russia bordering North Korea and China has historically been a bone of contention between both Russia and China. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On July 2, the Russian city of Vladivostok was celebrating 160th anniversary of its founding day when the Chinese citizens took to various social media platforms to criticise and heap abuses on Russia and claimed that the Primorsky Krai territory whose capital is Vladivostok historically belonged to China. Mindful of the geo-political consequences of the claims made by its citizens, the Chinese government and its foreign ministry did not endorse the claim, however the incident comes at a time when China is flexing its muscle in territorial disputes with its neighbouring countries like India and Bhutan, according to a special report by the Indian Express.

The claim made by the Chinese citizens, however, is not based on hearsay as the Primorsky Krai region did come under the jurisdiction of the Qing dynasty of China before it became a part of Russia in 1860. Its capital at that point in time was not called Vladivostok but was known as Haishenwei or the Bay of Sea Slugs. The history of the region dates back to the time of the first Opium war fought between the British and the Qing dynasty of China when the British empire named the Vladivostok harbour as Port May, Artyom Lukin, Deputy Director for Research, School of Regional and International Studies, Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok was quoted as saying by the Indian Express. Subsequently, in the second Opium war, Russia acquired a substantial amount of territory in the Manchu region including the present day Vladivostok which is the region’s largest port on the Pacific Coast, Lukin added.

The region which falls in the Southeastern part of Russia bordering North Korea and China has historically been a bone of contention between both Russia and China. China has also hinted at its claim on the region when it termed the whole region forming “Outer Manchuria”, according to some researchers. Further down in the past during the 1600s, Russia started expanding its claim on the region by encouraging its scant population to settle down in the area. The development alerted the Chinese leading it to take full control of the region and a formal signing of a treaty between the Chinese Qing dynasty and Russia which came to be known as the Treaty of Nerchinsk in 1689. According to the terms of the treaty, Russia gave up its claim on the territory.

Russia bided its time and waited for more than 167 years when it found an opportunity to wrest the territory back into its expanse. During the second Opium war in 1856 China was suffering massive reverses from the British and French forces. Russia striked at the opportune moment and started the build up of its forces on its border with China. Having been cornered from multiple directions, China had to agree to the demands of Russia and hand over the territory claimed by the Russians. A formal treaty called the Treaty of Aigun in 1858 was signed between China and Russia in 1858 which also guides the major border agreement between the two nations till today. However, the Chinese did not forget its claim on the territory and resorted to calling the Treaty of Aigun an “unequal territory”. According to a 2007 book ‘Russian Policy Towards China and Japan: The El’tsin and Putin Periods’ by Natasha Kuhrt, concerns were raised in 1990s, when the increasing trade and opening of border between the two countries had made Russia wary of the possibility of China renewing its claim on the region.

Another interesting incident from the times of Chinese leader Mao is quoted in the book which gives an insight about the Chinese regime’s psyche regarding the territory on the Russian border. When some Chinese were asked about their understanding of Vladivostok by a German Sinologist Klaus Mehnert, all of them said that the place was formerly known as Haishenwei before the “Russians took it away.”

A reflection of that psyche was visible on July 2 this year when the Chinese diplomats and journalists took to social media to criticise and abuse the Russian regime and reminded the world of what they claim as the historical wrongs committed by Russia. Shen Shiwei, a reporter for the state-owned broadcaster CGTN said that the celebration of the founding day of Vladivostok reminded the Chinese of “those humiliated days in the 1860s.”

However, when it comes to diplomacy a large number of border agreements have been signed between the Russian regime and the Chinese regime in recent years including that in 1991, 1994 and 2004 without any of them mentioning Vladivostok or Primorsky Krai as disputed territory, according to the Indian Express report. An additional agreement signed between the Chinese Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and Russia’s Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov in 2008 also acknowledged mutual acceptance of the territory on the Sino-Russian border. According to researchers, the Chinese did not classify the region as disputed territory.

Russia has also come along a long way and made the Primorsky Krai region as one of its most vital ports for trade and security purposes. The region is also known as Russian Maritime Province and Vladivostok city houses the Russian Pacific fleet.

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