Economy on Hold in Russian Regions Close to China

Life in Russia’s Primorsky Krai, a region bordering China and North Korea, has changed drastically since the outbreak of the novel coronavirus, Meduza writes. 

The region has close ties with China through trade and tourism, and Chinese workers come to Vladivostok, the capital of Primorsky Krai, to set up small businesses. Many of the goods sold in the region are imported from China.

“You’d really have to have your head in the sand to say that the situation in the region hasn’t changed since the coronavirus epidemic began,” says Konstantin Shestakov, the deputy prime minister of Primorsky Krai. Ties to China are so close here that even people passing through Vladivostok as tourists or visitors can easily spot the transformations. Shops are closed, the doors of cafés are locked, business is suffering.

One of the most popular activities among Vladivostok residents is to hang out at Chifanki, or Chinese cafés. Most of these cafés are located at the Sportivnyi Market, known by locals as “Sportivka,” which is near the city center. They can be found both alongside the open-air booths and throughout the indoor shopping mall, sometimes lined up in a row. Competition for clients is fierce. In Vladivostok, many of the Chinese business owners have chosen simple Russian names for themselves: One can even find a café called “Sasha and Lena” right next door to another one called “Valera and Lena”.

Lunchtime is always very busy, and many Chinese workers who work in nearby shops come here for their lunch breaks. When Meduza’s reporter visited, the cafés seemed empty. Many Chinese shopkeepers had gone to China to celebrate Chinese New Year on January 25, leaving signs outside their shops explaining when they would be back. Judging by these signs, many were looking to return sometime in mid-February.

But then the coronavirus outbreak began. By late January, Russia had closed its Far East border with China and imposed travel restrictions. Flights have been limited. Shopkeepers and café owners do not know when their colleagues could be back, but the most optimistic estimate seems to be late March.

Local news outlets have reported on the closure of Chinese cafés, but in fact, most of the cafés located on Sportivka were open when we visited. The people who work there were not eager to chat with us, but some of them told us that there are many Chinese citizens who are still in Russia and who are continuing to work.

“Where would they go? Everyone is right there, working. Of course, the dishes on the menu have gotten a bit more expensive, but not by a lot,” said Valery, a fishmonger.

“The pigeons on the central square have definitely noticed the absence of Chinese people. Chinese tourists constantly fed them, they liked them for some reason. Now it looks like the birds have even lost weight,” says Viktoria, who works for a private tour company.

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