Thursday, July 5, 2007

Chinese Migration one

From the Asian Times

A new breed of migrants fans out
By Bertil Lintner

CHIANG MAI, Thailand - A disorderly line of Chinese citizens jostle through check-in at the airport in the northern Thai city of Chiang Mai on their way to boarding a flight for Bangkok. They are jabbering away, though not in the rough Teochew dialect spoken in nearby Yunnan province and long familiar in the markets of northern Thailand. Rather, they are speaking in the standard Mandarin of mainland China.

Nor are they tourists: ill-fitting suits, battered briefcases and mobile phones mark them out as business people flying to Bangkok to seek trade deals or land jobs. They're among the new wave of Chinese migrants who have over the past decade opened shops and eateries in Chiang Mai and other towns in northern Thailand - a creeping invasion that a growing number of local Thais are watching with unease.

"As a Thai, I feel overwhelmed," says a Bangkok-born woman who now lives in Chiang Mai. "Of course, Chinese have been moving south for centuries. But we have never seen as many new businessmen, and settlers, as now."

Northern Thailand is only one of their destinations. Large numbers of Chinese are also moving into northern Myanmar, northern Laos, Cambodia and further abroad - including the Pacific islands, Australia, the United States, the Russian Far East and Japan. More recently, South Korea has become a popular destination for Chinese migrants - both legal and illegal - as it's easier to enter than tightly sealed Japan.

China's new migrants are a breed apart from their peripatetic forebears, who spoke regional dialects and exhibited little nationalism, identifying more with the localities in China from which they hailed. The recent arrivals not only speak the national Mandarin language, but also tend to identify with China as a whole.

This new wave of Chinese migrants to Southeast Asia and beyond - what some Sinologists are referring to as the "Third Wave" of outward Chinese migration - is unprecedented in Chinese history not only because the migrants originate from northern and central Chinese provinces, but also because travel has become easier due to better transportation links both inside and outside of China. That's resulting in potentially larger numbers than previous waves of Chinese migration throughout the globe.

"The new-wave Chinese are very different from those who migrated in the past," says Andrew Forbes, a Chiang Mai-based China expert who has spent more than 20 years studying China's relations with Southeast Asia. "They've grown up in a country which is far more unified than before. There's now a different sense of being Chinese: the new migrants are patriotic and loyal to the motherland."

Nyiri Pal, a Hungarian Sinologist and academic, agrees that unlike earlier Chinese settlers in Southeast Asia, the United States and Australia, these new migrants do not feel they have stopped being part of China. According to Nyiri, they see themselves not as local minorities, but as a "global majority" with an attachment to China that has nothing to do with territorial nationalism. Not only is China their ethnic and cultural base, but it remains the foundation of their economic success - a place where they continue to invest in and draw on, he says.

Official blind eye
It's quite possible that Chinese authorities are not actively encouraging this migratory development. But there seems little doubt that Beijing's mandarins appreciate the benefits of the large-scale migration out of its overpopulated and resource-constrained country. First, the new wave of outward migration serves as a social safety valve at a time when unemployment is high and masses of young people are on the move looking for jobs inside the country.

Second, the foreign currency-denominated remittances they often send back to their families in China are an important source of national income. The third consideration is longer term: outward migration strengthens China's presence and economic influence around the world.

To underscore official thinking on the trend, Nyiri refers to an article in a Chinese magazine which quoted the State Council's "Opinion on Unfolding New Migrant Work":

Since reform and opening, people have left mainland China to reside abroad (called "new migrants" for short) and have continuously become more numerous. They are currently rising up as an important force within overseas Chinese and ethnic Chinese communities. In the future, they will become a backbone of forces friendly to us in America and some other developed Western countries. Strengthening new migrant work has important realistic meaning and deep-going, far-reaching significance for promoting our country's modernizing construction, implementing the unification of the motherland, expanding our country's influence and developing our country's relations with the countries of residence.

One such country is Nyiri's own: Hungary. Fifteen years ago, Chinese migrants were few and far between in Hungary. But the fall of communism in Eastern Europe opened new markets for private entrepreneurs and, ironically, many of them came from the world's last major communist-ruled country: China.

There are currently between 20,000 and 40,000 Chinese in Hungary, and most of them have arrived by a very long train ride from Vladivostok across the border in the Russian Far East.

It is increasingly obvious that China's growing political and economic clout has given the recent arrivals in Hungary, Southeast Asia and elsewhere greater ethnic confidence and assertiveness. But this sense of national pride is also a factor that has provoked tensions between new generation migrants and older settlers, who fear that the new arrivals' outward displays of nationalism could reignite latent animosities and rekindle longstanding suspicions towards ethnic Chinese communities in their adopted countries.

There have been incidents of anti-Chinese hostility that bear out those concerns. For example, in May 1999, 300 "new" Chinese massed outside the US Embassy in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh to protest against the bombing of the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade, which at the time the Americans asserted was a unintentional mistake.

A smaller gathering of ethnic Chinese Cambodians, who had been in the country for generations, then held a counter-demonstration, heckling the protesters: "You're not our brothers," one of them yelled. "Your people killed my people during Pol Pot's time." Cambodia's Chinese suffered particularly badly during the 1975-1979 Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot, which was backed by Beijing.

In the northern Myanmar city of Mandalay, newly arrived Chinese settlers have bought shops, restaurants, hotels, karaoke bars - and identity papers. Given the relative wealth of the Chinese migrants with regard to the local population, officials in Myanmar are reluctant to enforce immigration laws. Indeed, a well-known Burmese novelist, Nyi Pu Lay, was even arrested as early as 1990 - when the first groups of Chinese began to pour into Mandalay - and sentenced to 10 years' imprisonment for writing a story called "The Python", a satire on Chinese settlers moving into the city and squeezing out the local Burmese.

Myanmar's old Chinese communities - mostly of Fujianese and Cantonese origin - feel uncomfortable with this renewed racial tension; older Sino-Burmese remember how mobs ran amok in Yangon's Chinatown in 1967, burning and plundering Chinese shops at a time the country was in deep economic crisis.

New-age diaspora
So what drives this new Chinese diaspora? Chin Ko-lin, a Myanmar-born Chinese who is currently a professor at the School of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University in the United States, says the exodus stems from policy changes in China after 1978, when Washington and Beijing reestablished diplomatic relations. To qualify for most-favored-nation status, China relaxed emigration regulations in 1979, and the flow of migrants began.

"And beginning in the later 1980s, some of those who did not have legitimate channels to emigrate began turning to human smugglers for help," Chin explains. Thus, the movement of people out of China became a partly criminal and highly profitable enterprise. In the 1980s, China's so-called economic "reform and opening up" program under Deng Xiaoping paved the way for Chinese to seek business opportunities abroad.

The shift from people's communes to private agriculture, massive lay-offs at state-owned enterprises and rapid industrialization in coastal provinces all led to dislocation and more migration. And the migrants soon discovered ingenious ways to avoid official immigration rules and regulations both at home and abroad. If land borders and airports were well guarded, the migrants took to boats; if coastguards stepped up patrols, the migrants entered by air.

Back-door routes were found and multiplied. One example: would-be migrants trekked overland to Thailand, flew from Bangkok to Bucharest, Romania - the cheapest airfare to Europe - then slipped unnoticed into nearby European Union countries. This month, Romania, a new European Union member, started importing Chinese workers to resolve severe labor shortages in its textile industry. Others were smuggled into the outlying US territories of Guam, the Virgin Islands or Puerto Rico, where controls are less stringent than on the US mainland.

While exact figures, of course, are not available, Western intelligence officials believe that nearly 2 million Chinese have migrated legally and illegally since 1978, and the outward human flow continues. They estimate that 30,000-40,000 a year make their way to the US, and the same number throughout the rest of the world. Chin and other experts on Chinese migration say this is the third time in Chinese history that such a massive exodus has taken place.

The first wave, they say, came after the fall of the Ming dynasty in 1644 and consisted mostly of non-Mandarin speaking southerners who opposed the Manchu seizure of power in Beijing. These migrants established overseas Chinese communities all over Southeast Asia, which now control large swathes of the region's economy and means of production.

The next wave came after the Taiping rebellion and other upheavals in the mid and late 19th century as the Manchu Qing dynasty crumbled and warlords tore the country into lawless fiefdoms. Not only did the migrants - again mainly from the southern coastal provinces - swell the existing Chinese communities in Southeast Asia, but newly invented steamships took them to North America and Australia.

Nationalistic migrants
Now, Forbes notes, the "Third Wave" migrants have come from all over China. Better overland routes have led to a steady movement of Chinese to Southeast Asia - and air travel makes it easier for them to go anywhere in the world. He argues that Chinese migration may actually have a more profound economic and social impact on the countries they settle in than was the case in the past.

In Japan, for instance, Chinese newcomers who have been smuggled into the country now by far outnumber the small communities of Chinese who have been living for generations in Yokohama, Kobe and other port cities. Chinese human traffickers, widely known as snakeheads, are making fortunes bringing in illegal immigrants from China by boat, air, or posing as "students" through dodgy educational exchange programs.

Because of Japan's strict labor laws, many of the newcomers have little choice but to work in bars and night clubs, which are often controlled by organized crime gangs. Now, ethnic Chinese gangs have even begun to challenge the yakuza, Japan's own powerful organized crime syndicates. Fierce rivalries between gangsters from Shanghai, Fujian and Beijing have erupted into shoot-outs in the usually peaceful cities of Tokyo and Osaka.

This strong "Chineseness" of the new wave of migrants could lead to demographic changes in the countries and territories to which they have moved.

A Chinese immigrant in the United States may become a "Chinese-American" and a Chinese in Australia an "Australian-Chinese". But Chinese migrants to the Russian Far East - where Chinese influence is growing rapidly - are unlikely to become "Russian Chinese". That is, their identification will remain with China, not Russia. Likewise, Chinese who migrate to smaller Pacific island nations such as Tonga and the Marshall Islands will also remain Chinese, with little or no loyalty to their new countries of residence.

In many ways, this is not an unprecedented development. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Europeans migrated in large numbers to other continents, which led to the formation of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and other new countries. The Chinese are not reaching out to establish colonies, but, if they begin to outnumber the native population in areas such as the Russian Far East and the Pacific islands, it will inevitably lead to entirely new ethnic, social and political structures in those territories. And even where they form only a powerful minority, their political influence will be considerable and a factor to be reckoned with.

The "Third Wave" of Chinese migration has already helped to strengthen China's influence, especially among its nearby neighbors. Myanmar and Laos have established close economic and even military ties with China. Trade between Thailand and China is booming, and so are cultural and political exchanges. China is Cambodia's closest foreign ally, and a growing source of aid, trade and migration. China's influence in the Pacific is growing at the expense of America's. Intentionally or not, the large-scale migration of its people is reinforcing China's emergence as a big - and global - power.

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