Inter-area/Border Crossing

Organized Panel Session

1 - The Oil-Soaked Soviet Roots Undergirding Chinese Xinjiang

Friday, July 6
2:40 PM - 4:10 PM
Location: Casuarina, Lower Ground Floor

The Qing Empire and the early Chinese Republic’s failure to take steps to more clearly integrate their westernmost province of Xinjiang effectively opened the door to foreign powers. Beginning in the late 19th century, various imperial powers sought to stake their own claim to the region’s resource wealth. Benefitting from earlier investments in infrastructure in Central Asia, the Soviet Union played the most prominent role in this larger effort. The campaigns to gain access to Xinjiang’s lucrative resource wealth, which reached a head in the 1930s when the Soviet Union signed a series of agreements with local officials to exchange industrial goods and weapons for Xinjiang’s raw materials. These agreements and the subsequent outflow of Soviet surveyors, planners, and technicians into Xinjiang served to transform the region in ways that continue to resonate.


In this paper, by using oil production as a case study, I will explore the long-term power of Soviet investments in resource production in Xinjiang. I find that these investments have helped shape spatial patterns of economic investment and the distribution of institutions of state power in the region. These investments, which have concentrated capital into small, tightly delimited regions at the expense of other areas have had a powerful, long-term impact in the region. It is only in recent years, faced with growing unrest and problems in Xinjiang that Chinese planners have sought to roll back the influence of Soviet investment and distribute state capital far more widely in this border region.

Judd Kinzley

University of Wisconsin-Madison, United States

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1 - The Oil-Soaked Soviet Roots Undergirding Chinese Xinjiang



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