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Experts: Relax Sino-Russian Border to Help Region

Regional experts from China and Russia on Wednesday suggested both governments further loosen policies on immigration and trade to bridge the economic disparities facing residents on both sides of the border amid the worst financial crisis in decades.

"Previously, local governments on the Chinese side were more active in promoting trade. But now, I think both sides need a new mindset to revitalize the Far Eastern region," Xing Guangcheng, a senior regional scholar, said during a teleconference between Chinese and Russian scholars at the Russian News and Information Agency in Beijing on Wednesday.

Yury Golubchikov, a regional and population expert with the research institute of the Russian Chamber of Accounts, said Moscow should rethink its approach.

"Policies are more favorable on the Chinese side, so the Russian federal government should draw up better policies for the Far Eastern regions."

Experts at the meeting also dismissed claims by some scholars that Chinese immigrants to Russia's Far East are causing "demographic pressure" on local communities.

"The 'demographic pressure' from Chinese immigrants in the Far Eastern region is a myth. The real problem is Russia's own weak development in this region," Golubchikov said. "The two sides should discuss how to encourage immigrants and trade, not the threat of them."

China's shuttle traders opened up bilateral trade by working with Russian brokers after the border between Russian Far Eastern territories and China's Heilongjiang province was opened in 1988.

While trading Chinese textiles, handcrafts, farm, food and electronic products for the abundant steel, lumber and cars from the former Soviet Union, many Chinese crossed the Heilongjiang River to fill job vacancies.

In light of the recent financial crisis, speculation holds that the Russian government might cap the number of immigrants working in the country.

But Tian Chunsheng, a specialist on bilateral trade, said rules restricting the flow of immigrants might have little effect against the global shift toward market economies.

The number of immigrants from both countries has been similar in the past 15 years, Cheng Yijun, chief researcher of the Russian economy at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said.

"The Russian immigration authority should think of new policies. Some people may lose their factories, but the regional economy will pick up speed," Alexander Zheleznyakov, a sociologist with the Russian Academy of Science, said.

(China Daily November 27, 2008)

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