New statistics from the Russian Ministry for the Development of the Russian Far East have shown that Chinese are now the single largest group of tourists to visit the Russian Federation. While some of the visits on the list are business trips, crucially, most are now leisure visits where Chinese flock mainly to Russia’s Pacific Far East, primarily to the city of Vladivostok.
The importance of these new developments should not be underestimated by Russia. One of the biggest soft-power assets any country has is tourism. Indeed, many European countries rely on tourism to bolster economies that are otherwise lacking in diversity, all the while helping to raise otherwise modest international profiles. While the Russian and Chinese economies won’t ever have to reply on tourism as a major economic factor the way that small European countries often do, tourism is nevertheless the most direct way that potential trading partners get to know one another.
The Sino-Soviet Cold War split of 1961, led to a temporary pause in what had been centuries of healthy neighbourly relations between Russia and China. At the end of the Cold War, many Russians were more eager to assimilate themselves into American and European cultures than Chinese, due to both a lingering distance from China owing to the Sino-Soviet split and also due to the fact that in the 1990s, US/western hegemony looked to be an unstoppable geo-economic force.
Today however, with China set to becoming the world’s largest overall economy in areas where it has not already achieved this, global eyes are turning to China and this is no more true than in a Russian state that is among China’s closest international partners. Likewise, the Russia of the 21st century has regained much of its own cultural autonomy from the western-centric 1990s. While these developments are clearly a good sign in terms of Sino-Russian relations, there is still much more that can be done to encourage two-way tourism between Russia and China.
There are already hopeful signs, as China is now the number two tourist destination for Russians, just behind the long-time summer favourite of Turkey. Aside from the obvious economic benefits, the more that Russians and Chinese get to know each other on a personal level, the more each country is able to better understand one another’s culture, which is crucial for doing business, particularly at the level of medium sized transactions which do not always have the automatic government aid of large deals.
One cannot underestimate how in the 20th century, the global proliferation of American film, television and popular products helped to enhance America’s geopolitical prestige in the minds of civilians who went on to become the future leaders of their nations.
Today, China and Russia which for most of the 20th century, had their own large film and television industries, could benefit greatly from enhanced cultural exchange, including not just tourism but through sharing film, television, sport and musical media across borders. The internet makes much of this easier than ever and likewise, new electronic visa schemes operating between Russia and China have helped to modernise the paperwork associated with international travel.
The more Russians and Chinese learn each other’s languages, watch each other’s media and travel to each others countries, the stronger and already healthy partnership will become.