By Rens Lee, Foreign Policy Research Institute
Reviewed by Francis P. Sempa, Contributing Editor
In a recent speech at the Kennan Institute for Advanced Russian Studies, Rens Lee reviewed the challenges and opportunities for U.S. foreign policy in the Russian Far East.
Lee noted that this region constitutes 36% of Russian territory (about two-thirds the size of the United States), but has a population of only 6.3 million. It also shares a 3600 kilometer border with China and is rich in natural resources, including oil, natural gas, coal, gold, diamonds, timber, and fish. Lee described the region as underdeveloped and "geographically vulnerable."
The future of the Russian Far East involves the interests of Russia, China, Japan, the Koreas, and the United States. Lee warned about what he called "the looming presence of China." China's nearby provinces have a 16-1 population edge over the Russians in the Far East region, and have already begun a process of demographic infiltration, legally and illegally. A Chinese sphere of influence in the Russian Far East, Lee warned, would "greatly increase China's geopolitical weight."
Moscow, according to Lee, is aware of the threat posed by China and is taking steps to counter it, including providing state investment in infrastructure and development in the region.
Lee believes that the United States has two principal security interests in the region: preventing Chinese dominance; and averting a regional power rivalry. He suggested the possibility of a Russia-U.S. "geopolitical entente" to counter China, and a regional security arrangement among the nearby powers.
Lee's speech has echoes of the "Open Door" policy and Alfred Thayer Mahan's description of the Far East as the "debatable and debated ground."