Tuesday, June 27, 2023

Provocative New Book Views Russian-Chinese Borderlands as ‘a Limitrophe’

Paul Goble

            Staunton, June 26 – A Moscow scholar has now applied a term, “limitrophe,” widely used between the two world wars for the countries that broke away from the Russian Empire at the time of the 1917 revolution, for a very different location, the borderlands between Russia and China.

            In a new book, The Great Eastern Limitrophe. Transborder Peoples in the State Policy of Russia and China (in Russian; Moscow, 2022), Moscow anthropologist Maksim Mikhalyov argues that the two powers must view the peoples of this region as having a special status within each state (ia-centr.ru/han-tengri/oriental/maksim-mikhalyev-velikiy-vostochnyy-limitrof/).

            According to the author, “the optimum strategy toward the transborder peoples is a policy of minimizing the direct interference of the state in social and cultural processes taking place in the transborder milieu” because these people “fulfill the role of a unique barrier between the main population of the two countries, that is between Russians and Hans.”

            Because clashes between these two civilizations are inevitable, Mikhalyov says, the border peoples if handled in this way can minimize the scope of such conflicts because these people have ties on both sides and have learned how to cope with the dominant civilization under which they live.

            Thus, he continues, “the Russian-Chinese transborder region represents a unique cultural, spiritual, socio-economic and political resource,” one that is worth preserving and should not be damaged lest that open the way to more direct clashes between Moscow and Beijing, something in no one’s interest.

            What makes this limitrophe “decisive,” Mikhalyov says, is “the geographic distance” of this region from the centers which has the effect of making it more difficult for either state to exercise “full control over the course” of life in this area. That should be recognized, even celebrated, rather than combatted.

            If it is preserved, this quality of “the great eastern limitrophe” will be “a unique bullion of creativity, out of which will constantly appear new approaches, ideas, models and teachings” which both Moscow and Beijing can use to help themselves as well as the peoples of this border region.

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