March 22nd, 2012
03:29 PM GMT
Manzhouli, China (CNN) – In Inner Mongolia – the frozen grasslands between China and Russia – it's hard to imagine anything surviving. Yet in the Chinese border town of Manzhouli, business is thriving.
Manzhouli is now one of China's busiest land ports, with $10 billion dollars-worth of timber and other goods passing through every year.
Traders like Huang Jincai are shipping in Siberian timber, revitalizing this once sleepy outpost. Jincai runs a multi-million dollar business cutting and selling timber all over China – with 10% sales growth every year.
"Without this business, I would just be another laborer," Jincai told CNN’s Eunice Yoon.
"I have a house and a car now and the standard of living has improved," he added. "Now more and more people are coming here."
Business between Beijing and Moscow hasn't always been this good. Only four decades ago the two nations clashed over this border - a heavily fortified barricade during the Cold War. Yet after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, relations began to thaw.
Manzhouli is now home to 300,000 people - a 15-fold jump since the end of the Cold War.
Annual trade between China and Russia is now worth more than $55 billion, and China is driving the relationship forward, hoping to further open landlocked Central Asia. It is setting up an economic zone here for factories to process timber and feed the nation's voracious appetite for natural resources.
Russian Auto parts dealer Pasha Gulakov has been coming to Manzhouli for a decade. He negotiates deals to buy components in China to sell back in Russia, with little concern for the hostilities of the two nations' past.
"Manzhouli feels like home," he said. "I have many friends here."
But some argue that Russia is lagging behind in developing its own border towns.
"Behind me is Manzhouli's sister town in Russia,” said Gulakov. “You can see there isn't much activity. People on this side of the border complain the Russians aren't doing enough to develop their side."
Some businessmen complain that Russians are unpredictable about regulations.
Jincai says they should do more, but he's optimistic.
"The Chinese government has invested a lot in Manzhouli," he said. "I hope the Russian side will also do the same and invest in its border towns. If they invest more, then our town will grow."
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