MOSCOW (Reuters) — Russia complained about a major Chinese river project on Monday which it says will harm the Russian environment, the latest sign of strained relations between the two countries.
In a statement, Russia’s Environment Ministry expressed «serious concern on information about the continuation of construction in China of drainage canals, which may make the river Argun shallow on Russian territory.»
The Argun runs into the Amur river that acts as the frontier for Russia and China along a long stretch of their vast border.
The environmental complaint came a few days after a Chinese delegation met Russian officials to discuss the June 29 closure of a vast Moscow market which employed tens of thousands of Chinese.
«In light of the development of the Sino-Russian strategic partnership, China urges the Russian side to take a historical perspective, legally resolve the situation and protect Chinese merchants’ legal rights,» Vice-Commerce Minister Gao Hucheng said in a statement after the talks.
Moscow’s Foreign Ministry later responded by saying China had agreed that the closure of Cherkizovsky market — which Prime Minister Vladimir Putin had said was a major focus of contraband goods — should not be allowed to sour ties.
China and Russia are members, along with Brazil and India, of the BRIC alliance of major developing economies and want closer economic and diplomatic ties. Beijing agreed this year to lend Russian oil firms $25 billion in exchange for 20 years of oil supplies at below market rates.
In the latest grievance, Moscow complained that China’s work on widening the Argun River, which had been suspended by a joint agreement in 2006, had restarted, according to satellite images taken between May 17 to July 17.
«According to our data, (the construction) can lead to significant negative consequences for the river Argun, its ecosystem, the life of which is linked to the river, as well as for the economic development of the trans-Baikal region,» said Rinat Gizatulin, a ministry department chief.
Environmental organization WWF in May warned that the Chinese project could have a devastating impact.
«Of course, we’re happy with the ministry’s response. The Chinese plans would have serious consequences for the region on the Russian side of the border,» said Evgeny Shvarts, director of conservation policy with WWF in Moscow.
(Reporting by Conor Sweeney; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)