By Paul Goble
During Dmitry Medvedev’s visit to Beijing, his Chinese counterpart Li Keqiang said Beijing will not allow any “illegal migration of its citizens into Russia,” a remarkable declaration that likely will raise rather than settle Russian concerns about the number of Chinese in Russia east of the Urals (ria.ru/world/20171101/1507960592.html).
As one Russian commentator, Aleksey Vinokurov, has already said, Li’s words suggest that Beijing is counting on the number of law-abiding Chinese to be sufficient to promote its expansion of influence and doesn’t need any “growth in illegal migration” to do so (fergananews.com/articles/9616).
But why should Li have said anything of the kind? Illegal migrants don’t generally ask permission from their own governments, and most illegals do not fall into that category because they cross the border without permission. Rather they do so by overstaying their visa time limits or acting in ways their visas don’t require.
That means, Vinokurov says, that Russia, not China, has to bear the biggest burden in fighting “illegal Chinese migrants.” And that is a real challenge, he continues, because Chinese in Russia acknowledge that “there are many more Chinese violating [Russian] migration rules than there are those who obey the law.”
China in fact and unlike the Soviet Union encourages its citizens to go abroad: this reduces unemployment, provides a channel of assistance for Chinese remaining at home, and represents an important form of influence for Beijing. Indeed, the Chinese word for migrant is best translated as “’a bridge to China.’”
Because that is the case, restricting migration has never been one of the primary goals of China, Vinokurov says. Moreover, it is unclear what it would do to achieve that given that this issue is not about border controls but rather about the behavior of individual Chinese who overstay or otherwise violate Russian visa provisions.
And launching a campaign in China to encourage people not to go to Russia for work would hardly be in China’s interests. Consequently, Li’s declaration was simply an expression of politeness, the Russian commentator says; and it will have no impact on the real number of illegal Chinese migrants in Russia.
Indeed, their number may even go up. Medvedev said in response that Moscow wants to extend the length of time Chinese can stay in Russia without a visa to three weeks, a step that would allow even more Chinese to overstay their time and thus add to Russian fears about the Chinese presence in Russia east of the Urals.