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    Greater China
     Apr 17, 2007
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A new breed of migrants fans out
By Bertil Lintner

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.

PART 2: The Sinicizing of the South Pacific

Bertil Lintner is a former correspondent with the Far Eastern Economic Review and is currently a writer with Asia-Pacific Media Services. This series of articles is part of a larger research project conducted with support from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.

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