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Chinese migration to Kazakhstan - threat or myth?

26 september 2014, 12:56
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Chinese migrants. Photo courtesy of wotanjugend.info
Chinese migrants. Photo courtesy of wotanjugend.info

Chinese migration to Kazakhstan was at the center of a round table discussion in Almaty earlier this week. It aimed to figure out whether the development constituted a threat to the Central Asian country or there was nothing to be concerned about, Tengrinews reports.

Two very different opinions were voiced: on the one hand, worries were on the rise with respect to the increasing inflow of Chinese migrants to Kazakhstan and lack of knowledge of their true intentions, on the other hand, many things about Chinese migration were called “myths” not reflecting the real picture.

The first view was summed up by political analyst Rasul Zhumaly, who said that the inflow of migrants from China was expected to increase in the next 5-10 years, which was an especially worrying sign given that China had shown more than once throughout the history that it has mastered the art of “conquering without fighting”.

“China is the only major power whose position in Central Asian has been strengthening for the past 23 years [after the collapse of the Soviet Union]. And we still do not know the Chinese – this is our serious weakness,” Zhumaly declared. He said that migration could be China's political tool, since most of Chinese Diasporas never assimilate but preserved their identity and maintain strong attachment to their homeland.

80 million Chinese are now residing in 140 countries of the world, Zhumaly said. The assets of these migrants totals somewhere between 1.5 and 2 trillion dollars, he said. For example, in Malaysia, a third of the population is Chinese, and they control 70 percent of the national wealth. Thailand is home to Chinese constituting 15 percent of its total population and controlling 80 percent of assets. Chinese in Indonesia are only four percent large but control 75 percent of the economy. The Philippines has only one percent of the Chinese population but with 60 percent of the national wealth in their hands.

"Against the background of these statistics Chinese migration to Central Asia does not yet raise strong concerns. The scale and proportions are not the same as those of the migration to America or Southeast Asia. Migratory flows in our direction are not yet a priority for China. But it is a matter of time. The situation may change in the next 5-10 years, the demographics of Xinjiang may change. And the changes well be reflected upon Kazakhstan," Zhumaly said.

He said that the Chinese government was trying to convince everyone that their country was a peace-loving power, cooperation with which would benefit any country. However, the analyst is sure that such methods are used by China with a sole goal of becoming a leader in the global economy.

A different opinion was expressed by Yelena Sadovskaya, expert of the Research Council on the CIS States Migration under the Center for Migration Studies of the Institute for Economic Prognosis of the Russian Academy of Sciences. She called the views on potential “annexation” of Kazakhstan’s territory and “Chinese incursion” groundless myths.

She recognized that the Chinese economic presence in Kazakhstan had been growing since the early 2000s. However, this should be looked at as objective reality of economic cooperation, she said.

In addition, Sadovskaya said that Chinese migration was not only about ethnic Chinese. "It would be more accurate to talk about migration from China, because of its multi-ethnic composition that includes the Kazakhs, Uighurs, Dungans, Koreans, Uzbeks and other ethnic groups," she said.

Moreover, most of the people from China, who relocated to Kazakhstan, were ethnic Kazakhs: from 1993 to 2012 of the total 44.5 thousand people migrating from China, 43,130 people were ethnic Kazakhs, which is 96.8 percent.

The flow of people crossing border to China from Kazakhstan was twice or thrice greater than the other way around, she added.

The bar chart below shows the number of immigrants from China to Kazakhstan obtaining permanent residency in the period between 1995-2012 (10 months of 2012 were included). The y-axis represents the number of people. In blue is the total number of immigrations, while the red shows ethnic Kazakhs among them.



Sadovskaya added that the Chinese migrants rarely obtained Kazakhstan’s citizenship. Nor did they enter into mixed marriages with the Kazakhs. Only 74 marriages between ethnic Chinese and Kazakhs were recorded in 16 years.

Sadovskaya said that succumbing to phobias was unwise because for China “we are not a priority direction geopolitically” but rather its “secure back land”, whereas the major challenges for China were from the USA, Japan, Taiwan and others.

She added that the impact of Chinese labor force on Kazakhstan's labor market was minimal. "Basically they are engaged in joint projects and occupy niches where we have a labor shortage," the analyst said.

The graph below shows the statistics of migrant work force (Y-axis) attracted to Kazakhstan between 1999 and 2011.



The expert summarised that the Chinese migration to Kazakhstan was a mirror of internal problems of the latter.

"It is a mirror which reflects the internal social, economic, ethno-demographic problems. (...) The dynamism of Chinese business in Kazakhstan is a reflection of the lack of competitiveness of small and medium enterprises in Kazakhstan, lack of support for domestic SMEs from the state. (...) The rapidly growing educational migration to China is a consequence of the poor quality of higher education in our country, its high cost and corruption, which "push" the youth to cheap Chinese universities," Sadovskaya said.
 
Reporting by Vladimir Prokopenko, writing by Dinara Urazova


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