Staunton, September 10 – All pan-national projects have consequences for the peoples long their way, and Beijing’s “One Belt, One Road” project to connect the Pacific rim with Europe is no exception. It has already led the Chinese authorities to crack down on the Uyghurs in Xinjiang and now confronts them with difficulties inside Russia with the Chuvash.
The Chuvash, a Christian Turkic nationality in the Middle Volga numbering some 1.4 million people, would seem to be far from China and Chinese concerns, but as IdelReal journalists Ramazan Alpaut and Zoyra Simbirskaya document, they are close to the center of them because they are becoming a real problem for China (idelreal.org/a/30829800.html).
Beijing plans to build highway and rail links through Russia, including in the Middle Volga where Chuvashia is located. Moscow and Beijing have reached an agreement on that, but the Chuvash authorities and the Chuvash people have not been consulted. Many of the latter are furious, and the republic head elections in three days have given them an occasion to protest.
The actions of Chuvash politicians in the last two weeks suggest that many people in that republic are very much opposed to the Chinese plan and that officials are backing away from it lest the incumbent governor lose in the September 13 elections or at least be forced into an embarrassing second round.
Two weeks ago, unregistered opposition candidate Andrey Ildemenov said that the Chuvash Republic leadership are worried about the anger of the local population and have tried to suggest that they will oppose Moscow and Beijing because the Chuvash people want them to (idelreal.org/a/30739544.html).
At about that time, the Chuvash government media reported that the authorities had annulled the license they had given to the Chinese for construction in one district, although Chinese officials deny that is the case (chgtrk.ru/novosti/ekonomika/u-kitayskogo-proekta-sychuan-chuvashiya-otozvali-licenziyu/).
Aleksandr Spiridonov, head of the Industrial Development Foundation in Chuvashia, says that the Chinese have not lived up to their obligations and that the republic authorities are well within their rights to demand that they do so or face the consequences.
Since that time, the incumbent governor Oleg Nikolayev has posed as an opponent of the Chinese project in the hopes of not losing votes on September 13. If as expected, he wins reelection, he will either have to live up to his newly declared republic-centric policy or face protests from the population.
That will put both him and Moscow in a difficult situation. Kowtowing to the Chinese likely will be possible only if Moscow and Cheboksary increase repression there, but not doing so will raise questions in Beijing about Moscow’s reliability as a partner, something the Kremlin wants to avoid.
As a result, problems in one small segment of the enormous Beijing project are again likely to lead to bigger problems for all concerned, the latest example of how globalization comes home in unexpected and unwelcome ways.
Window on Eurasia — New Series