Russia and China.
Two major powers that are being drawn closer
by the Belt and Road Initiative.
I will explore the spectacular wealth
that’s been created at the border of these two countries.
I'll uncover the history of Russians in China.
And I'll meet the latest Friendship Ambassadors of the Belt and Road.
A Belt and Road Initiative linking China and Russia
has sparked celebration and concern.
Rival powers, Russia and China...
Russia and with China...
Russia or China...
In my journey along the road to Russia,
I will visit China’s border cities with Russia.
This entire city is lit in gold.
I will discover the splendours of Mongolia with its untapped riches,
-It’s like a house on wheels! -Yes.
mysterious Uzbekistan through its stunning cities,
and I will explore the Kremlin and the power it wields.
This is my journey through one of China’s key economic corridors
on its Belt and Road.
In the last year, much of the focus on international relations worldwide
has been on a US-China trade war.
One upshot from that is renewed attention on one of the world’s oldest
and most chequered bilateral relationships.
I’ve been researching Sino-Russian relations,
and I’ve become convinced that it is an important relationship to watch.
The two countries’ increasing alliance
is making American and some European leaders uncomfortable.
But is a China-Russia partnership so terrifying to begin with?
Where do we begin unpacking this bilateral relationship
that has more layers than a Russian doll?
Well, here’s a good place to start,
the world’s largest Matryoshka Doll Square,
replete with domes, dolls, and other designer kitsch.
This is a “Disney-fied” Russia.
This is Manzhouli, in Northeast China.
A border zone where Russia, Mongolia and China meet.
What’s so amazing about this place
is how China so openly advertises its Russian links.
China has many friends,
but I haven’t seen the Chinese government
building a Pakistan town or an Italian town
to celebrate its bilateral relations.
This place is absolutely one of a kind,
and a testament to Chinese-Russian ties.
The Doll Square is empty because it’s freezing winter.
But make no mistake, Manzhouli is a busy town.
It’s China’s busiest land port,
and it is the main rail gateway to Russia.
65% of all import-export trade runs along these tracks.
And these tracks are now busier than ever.
Trade between Russia and China soared by nearly 25% in 2018,
reaching a record turnover of US$108 billion.
Manzhouli is also a special cross-border trade zone,
and has all sorts of facilities for logistics, customs, processing,
exhibition, trading, supply chain finance, and so on.
This is the Russian-China trade hub.
But Manzhouli’s relationship with Russia isn’t all about dollars and cents.
It’s also about friendship and goodwill
between neighbouring cities and states.
And Manzhouli has come up with new ways to promote those friendships.
The pageant has a strategic objective.
It’s to promote China’s friendship with Russia,
and shared neighbour, Mongolia.
The China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor
is one of six major corridors on the Belt and Road masterplan.
Ma Ying Zhe is one of the men in charge of organising
this cross-border extravaganza.
So what does this beauty pageant have to do with the Belt and Road Initiative?
Who are the organisers?
The charm offensive is effective.
The event is covered by more than a hundred media outlets
in the three countries.
How do you not win hearts and minds with this?
These girls are walking around in so little clothing
in temperatures as low as -40 degrees Celsius.
I couldn’t do it.
This must be the toughest weather conditions
any beauty pageant participant has to endure, anywhere in the world!
Russian-China relations are all smiles now, mostly.
But there was a time when relations weren’t so rosy.
In the early 1950s,
Russian and Chinese leaders dreamed of fashioning a world of Communism.
But by the late 60s,
the two Communist giants had entered into such a fierce battle for supremacy
that they became bitter enemies.
They even threatened to use nuclear weapons on each other.
Thousands of Muscovites demonstrate outside the Chinese embassy in Moscow.
The confrontation across the Ussuri River
at the Far Eastern frontier between the two countries
has provoked a king-sized outburst of propaganda from both sides.
The Russians claim that over 40 of their border guards have lost their lives.
The most serious development has been the Russian threat
to escalate the whole thing into a full scale conflict,
to initiate an offensive with nuclear weapons.
With the breakup of the Soviet Union,
the border dispute was also scaled down.
the two countries signed a pact demarcating their borders.
all bitterness from the past is hardly ever discussed.
Nowadays, the dialogue revolves around excellent bilateral relations.
Putin presented Xi with Russia’s highest state award.
Xi handed Putin a large, golden “Medal of Friendship”,
declaring the Russian leader his “best, most intimate friend”.
The two leaders have met over 30 times since 2013.
In addition to excellent trade ties,
China and Russia support each other on a wide variety of foreign policy issues,
including the Venezuela crisis,
North Korea’s nuclear programme, and the Iran nuclear deal.
Whatever the strategic reasons may be for the blossoming friendship,
it has made Manzhouli a boom town.
With serious investment pouring into the Wild West frontier town
of the Chinese border,
Sino-Russian trade is taking off.
And I’m off to meet a tycoon raking it in from the Sino-Russian trade.
You might find it surprising
but this is one of the biggest and most profitable businesses in Manzhouli.
Russia and China trade in many things,
oil, timber, electronics, you name it.
But it’s humble vegetables that are moving fastest.
The reason has to do with politics.
In 2014, Russia cut ties with its fruits and vegetable suppliers
from the European Union and US.
A retaliation against sanctions over the Ukraine issue.
Russia has to buy its fruits and vegetables elsewhere.
That was when Putin turned to his old comrade in China.
This is probably the most vegetables I’ve seen in my life.
All of this is being sent to the Russian city of Irkutsk,
1,500 kilometres away.
Four years ago, this journey would have taken seven days on the road.
But today, that travel time has been cut in half
because of all the new roads that have been built
due to the Belt and Road Initiative.
Chinese vegetables are moving faster than ever.
According to Russian government statistics,
Russia buys US$1 billion worth of vegetables,
and US$300 million worth of citrus fruits from China annually.
This company alone, Sen Fu Logistics,
exports US$50 million worth of fruits and vegetables
to Russia a year.
In 2018, their export volume to Russia grew 13%,
compared to the previous year.
Meng Lin is the woman in charge.
She moved to Manzhouli 25 years ago,
and Meng Lin has done very well.
There are a lot of awards here, congratulations.
Earlier today, I was able to check out your company,
and I have to say the place looked very busy.
Can you tell me a little bit about the history of your business?
Sure, thank you.
You were 21 years old when you first came to Manzhouli.
What was it that brought you here?
25 years. Time flies.
What was Manzhouli like back then?
And it’s all thanks to Russia-China ties?
We hear a lot about the Belt and Road Initiative.
How has it impacted your business?
Mangoes, once an exotic rarity across the border,
can now be bought in Russian supermarkets,
even in Siberia.
These foreign fruits are now much more accessible
thanks to the new trade links.
Just another example of how China’s Silk Road
is changing the world.
To your successful partnership with Russia.
-Thank you... -You're welcome.
This is the boom town that is Manzhouli.
A Chinese city with an obvious Russian feel to it,
everywhere you turn.
There’s a good reason why.
Manzhouli is the poster city for exciting developments in Sino-Russian trade.
The thriving tempo of cross-border trade is best felt here,
at the Manzhouli Trade Centre.
It’s the city’s official cross-border trade zone.
It's not even 9am,
and already, a long queue has formed outside.
They’re here for one thing mainly.
Bags and bags of the stuff fly off the shelves here,
bound for shops and restaurants across the city.
It’s a flour frenzy.
Driven not by traders, but by very entrepreneurial townsfolk.
This morning, there was a long line of people waiting to get in here.
Can you tell me what that was about?
This happens on a daily basis?
Bread is a must-have in this part of China.
Flour may be the star product.
But there’s also trade in candies,
skincare, cooking oil,
and all kinds of Russian products imaginable.
The Manzhouli Trade Centre isn’t just any other Russian departmental store.
For the local government,
it’s a shining example of how both sides of the border
have plenty to gain from the Belt and Road Initiative.
This trade zone is an example of some of the unique businesses
that have come up on the New Silk Road.
Manzhouli has a special role
on China’s Belt and Road global economic masterplan.
And here’s why.
China has identified six economic corridors on the Belt and Road Initiative.
The China-Mongolia-Russia economic corridor
is one of these six corridors.
And one that is accelerating particularly quickly.
The road and rail connections between the two countries are especially timely,
given China’s less than rosy trade ties with the United States currently.
But border towns like Manzhouli are richer for it, not just from trade.
Look at what it has done to the city’s nightlife.
There are many Russian restaurants in Manzhouli.
Let’s go check this one out.
Oh my goodness. Look at that bear!
Kristina is the maître d' of the Lubulin,
a dive that’s popular among out-of-towners.
The food is just part of the attraction.
For many Chinese visiting the city,
this could be their first taste of Russian culture.
This is quite the grand room you’ve prepared for us.
I feel like a king in here.
Thank you so much.
Your Mandarin is quite good.
What made you want to study Chinese?
Do you have many friends from Russia who want to work here?
Is the salary higher here, compared to Russia?
Do you have many Russians applying to work at your restaurant?
What’s the process of hiring a Russian?
How things have changed.
Thirty years ago, people on this side of the border wanted to go West.
Now, Russians are wanting to come East.
It really shows how far China has come.
My trip in Manzhouli is coming to an end,
but there’s a lot more to discover about Sino-Russian relations.
And for that, I will be headed to Harbin,
the music city of China.
This is Harbin.
A city with deep-rooted Russian connections.
At Harbin’s main street, the city’s Russian flavour is hard to miss.
Walking along this street,
you’ll find dozens of Russian souvenir shops and restaurants.
Like this Russian restaurant right here, famous for its bread.
Look at all these people queueing up.
This is the only place in China
that I’ve ever seen people in line for bread.
And no, it’s not some new hipster fad.
Families in Harbin have been bread eaters for more than a hundred years.
Russian flavour extends to the city’s urban landscape.
Stunning examples of Art Deco and Neo-Renaissance architecture,
from the 1920s and 1930s,
line the main street.
Why do we see so much Russian and European influence here in Harbin?
The old name for Harbin is Manchuria,
a city steeped in history.
It had been governed by three different powers,
the Russians, the Japanese, and the Chinese.
At the turn of the 19th century, it was an industrial powerhouse,
with a thriving economy which funded these spectacular buildings.
This church is magnificent!
Can you tell me how old it is?
Harbin was an expat paradise,
with people from over 50 different nationalities,
who formed 60% of the city’s population.
The city museum has recreated visuals
of what the city looked like at the time,
and boy, it looks nothing like China.
In the 1910s and 20s,
Harbin hosted the largest Russian population outside of the state of Russia.
Their influence on the Chinese people remain till this day.
The Russians left much more than bread, ballet, and buildings behind.
Harbin also inherited a major manufacturing base,
which was built by the Russians.
The Russians and Chinese draw on the legacy of that long friendship.
They work together in furthering many mutual goals,
like in education and science.
This is the Heilongjiang Institute of High Tech Research.
Here, Russian and Chinese scientists work together
on a thermal engineering project.
A translator aids communication.
But language is hardly a barrier when causes are aligned.
For the Russians, unlike many of their western counterparts,
there’s none of that paranoia associated with Chinese tech research.
There’s even a bilateral plan for Russia and China
to jointly develop their Artificial Intelligence capabilities.
This partnership has grown,
and it’s grown far beyond industrial cooperation.
There’s an extensive infrastructure designed to foster cooperation
up and down the line.
From summits at the very top,
to commissions between governments,
and down to networks closer to people’s hearts and minds, in education.
Nowadays, every Russian university or research centre,
in every region and city, has a sister institute in China.
Neither Russia nor China has a similar arrangement
with any other country in the world.
I’m here today to meet some students
who have benefitted from these excellent bilateral ties.
-Hi! -How're you doing?
All my new Russian friends are here
on some form of Chinese government scholarship.
Adele, why did you choose to come study here in China?
It’s because my bachelor degree was related to Chinese languages.
I chose China because China gave us scholarships,
and because many Russian and Chinese companies...
have business ties,
they trade with one another.
Is studying Chinese popular among your friends back in Russia?
It’s very popular.
Nowadays, the relationship between Russia and China is very good
and it’s getting better and better,
so many Russian people...
don’t just study English.
We also start to study Chinese in school.
Many Russians go to China nowadays
to get their bachelor’s degree or master’s degree.
It’s also easier for us to get Chinese scholarships
rather than, for example, American scholarships
or scholarships from European countries.
Max, what has your experience been like, here in China?
Every foreigner who comes to China,
in the course of this journey,
will recognise that there’s a lot of culture shock,
such as the style of communication being different
from that in other countries,
the language issue,
and relationships between people,
or guan xi, as we say here in China.
But I think it’s a good choice.
And what are your plans after you graduate?
I really want to go to Shanghai
because I have been there six times
and I really love that city.
What about the rest of you?
Are your long-term plans to remain here in China?
-Yes, definitely. -Yes.
Thank you very much.
-All right, we got our local eats here. -Yes.
I’m excited about this.
I have to say this is definitely a happening spot.
Do you have anything like this in Russia?
No, honestly, we don’t have this in Russia.
When I came to China for the first time and I saw a night market, I thought,
“China is very interesting at night.”
You can buy anything here.
Since I’m a student, I don’t have a lot of money,
so it is very good for me to come here for food,
to buy clothes or anything I want.
This is really cool and very interesting.
Since you are a student, you should be the one to eat it.
Okay, thank you!
All of you mentioned earlier that you want to live and work in China,
and do business here.
I’m curious to know, what is it like to do business in China
in comparison to what it might be like in Russia?
I have to ask the mandatory Belt Road Initiative question.
-Maybe I will ask you then, Max? -All right.
Do you feel that your future opportunities
are directly linked to the success of the Belt Road Initiative?
I think that with the rapid development of the world economy
and international trade,
One Belt One Road is going to help all the small businesses and small companies.
It will give these companies good economic opportunities.
I think it’s a good thing for all foreigners who live in China right now.
Sounds like everyone feels it’s a very favourable thing.
-Yes. -Yes, of course.
-All right, enjoy your sausages. -Thank you...
My journey on China’s New Silk road has brought me to Harbin,
the music city.
The title is an official one,
conferred by the United Nations in 2010, no less.
It’s also a title Harbin truly deserves.
The locals are die-hard fans of Russian classical music,
and the love affair goes way back.
Around the 1900s,
Harbin was nicknamed the St. Petersburg of the East.
It was home to a rich cultural scene,
including China’s first symphony orchestra,
made up of mostly Russian musicians.
Harbin had as many as 30 music schools,
where many prominent international musicians trained.
The foreigners left during the second world war,
but the Chinese, who remained,
certainly didn’t let the music fade out.
Harbin unveiled its tribute to its pedigreed musical heritage.
An opera house.
It cost US$560 million.
For a city so passionate about the arts,
they consider it money well spent.
The opera house isn’t Harbin’s only big ticket investment in the arts.
This is its other,
a conservatory built in the Neoclassical style,
costing a cool US$116 million.
Isn’t this place spectacular?
I feel like I’m in a Russian palace.
Inside, you’ll find the softer aspect of the Belt and Road Initiative,
what China likes to call “people-to-people bonds”.
For most classes in this conservatory,
the teacher-student ratio is one to one.
I thought it was nice, but you thought it was so-so?
There is always something to improve.
That's the process for life.
This school opened in 2016
under the banner of the Belt and Road Initiative.
The St. Petersburg Conservatory of Music is the school’s official partner,
and so, Russian teachers are aplenty.
The same, and here, make it...
Why did you choose to move to Harbin?
Somebody called me and asked,
"Do you want to go to China?"
I opened up a map, and I thought,
"Yes, why not?"
Also, Harbin is really connected to Russian history.
Of course, after the revolution in 1917,
many Russians moved to Harbin.
So I saw Russian movies about Harbin.
And of course, it's a good challenge.
Any thoughts on the Belt and Road Initiative?
I think it’s a good initiative
because right now,
with the globalisation process,
every country has to communicate with others,
and this is a way to help each other.
For example, China right now
can help Russia with technological processes.
We can help China with...
especially since many Chinese students do go to Russia.
They study in Russia,
they pick up Russian musical ideas
a Russian musical soul,
and then they return to China.
Harbin owes its music city roots to its cosmopolitan origins.
Something that wouldn't have happened without the railway.
Harbin was the administrative hub for the China Eastern Railway
which connected Moscow, China and Vladivostok.
In a way, the China Eastern Railway was a precursor
to the Belt and Road Initiative.
Harbin was once a small village until the building of the railway,
when it became an international city.
This railway museum here shows the history.
This is what Harbin looked like in the early 1900s.
Wars were fought over this railway and control of Harbin.
The Russians who controlled it lost it to the Japanese in 1935.
The Chinese later took it back,
and today, Harbin is a main port-of-call
along the Trans-Siberian Railway
linking Beijing to Moscow.
With the Belt and Road Initiative,
there are even bigger plans to link Harbin
to Central Asia and Russia.
Just like how the old railway turned Harbin into a cosmopolitan city,
the new railway is expected to bring equally monumental changes
to wherever its tracks run,
crossing exciting new frontiers
and creating new opportunities for development.
Over the next few instalments in this series,
I will be visiting other major points on the Belt and Road
connecting China to Russia.
the Belt and Road is facilitating a resource boom in the country.
But Mongolians are seriously concerned
about the impact of the New Silk Road on the environment,
and on the ancient traditions of its people.
In Uzbekistan, another key node on the China-Russia economic corridor.
The ancient Silk Road cities are undergoing a revival,
as new plans are unveiled
to plug them into the modern Silk Road highway.
And my final destination in the weeks ahead is Russia.
With political problems mounting between Russia and the US,
and China and the US,
the Kremlin and Beijing are drawing closer,
with important consequences for the global geopolitical order.
My stay in China’s border cities
has shown me that the Chinese-Russian relationship runs deep.
Whether it’s in history and culture,
or science, technology and education,
this relationship will have a huge impact on the countries between here and Russia.
And I will be visiting those countries in Mongolia and Central Asia
in the weeks ahead.
Should the world fear a Russian-China collusion,
or should it welcome a Russian-China alliance?
Whatever your views are on this,
there is no question that the two powers are drawing closer,
bound by new roads, bridges and railways
on a new Silk Road that will soon reach the heart of the Kremlin.