The Wall Street Journal reports:
Years of investment in cities along the China-Russia border were intended to open the door to mutual prosperity and close partnership between the two global powers.
The potholed streets, stray dogs and empty storefronts of Heihe, on the border in China’s far north, are more reminiscent of a declining U.S. Rust-Belt city. The city’s International Trade Center, a three-story shopping complex, was once popular with Russian shoppers looking for furs, leather coats and shoes. Now, stores covering only half the ground floor are open for business.
“People don’t have two pennies to rub together,” 47-year-old merchant Yang Wen, one of the few holdouts, said last Monday. With the disappearance of Russian shoppers in the past three years during pandemic border closures, Ms. Yang mostly sold Russian nesting dolls and other trinkets to the occasional Chinese tourist. The prospect of the border reopening isn’t bringing much hope. While shopfronts display both Cyrillic script and Chinese characters, few in Heihe believe Russians have cash to spare because of Western sanctions and the war in Ukraine.
The meeting in Moscow this week between Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin is expected to showcase what they have declared a partnership with “no limits” between their countries. Beneath the surface are economic, political, cultural and historical divisions that undercut the relationship.
For decades, Chinese exports have largely been geared toward the U.S., Europe and Japan. Trade between Russia and China grew more than 30% last year to 1.3 trillion yuan ($189 billion). Yet that represents only a quarter of the value of imports and exports between China and the U.S., Chinese customs data show. Grocery stores in Beijing, Shanghai and other wealthier Chinese cities stock more Japanese sake and Australian beef than vodka and caviar. [Continue reading…]