Russian scholar says Chinese are paid to marry Russians

June 24, 2009

Recently I gave a talk in Paris and met Olga Alexeeva, who is doing her PhD at Paris VII and has written a few articles on Chinese businesses in Russia. In one of these papers, which she kindly sent me, she quotes Vilya Gelbras, the top authority on Chinese migration in Russia, as claiming that Chinese migrants who marry Russian women receive a bonus payment from the Chinese government.

Naturally, I thought this must be a mistake, so I checked the source. It is a 2005 interview with Gelbras in Novaya Gazeta, Russia´s premier independent (anti-Putin) newspaper, authored by none other than Anna Politkovskaya, the woman who was Russia´s best-known investigative journalist before she was assassinated.

In the interview, Gelbras indeed claims that he has seen a plan, which “has been discussed by” the Politburo of the Chinese Communist Party, to “organise the settlement of Chinese migrants all over Russia through Amur Province in order to control merchandise by concentrating it in their own hands in the hubs of the Transsiberian Railway” (чтобы через Амурскую область организовать вселение китайцев по всей территории России и таким образом, держа в своих руках товарную массу, сосредотачивая ее в своих руках в узловых пунктах Транссиба вплоть до Москвы, излучать свое влияние). Further on, Gelbras claims that now there is a second ” infiltration plan”. And, no kidding, he does say that Chinese men who marry Russian women get paid by the government. Then he goes on to talk about how the Chinese have cut down all the forests along the Transsiberian railroad and are poaching frogs.

Gelbras says that he wrote a special report for the UN on this issue. I have not come across it. The whole thing perplexes me. To be clear, I cannot imagine that these claims are true. What I can imagine is that Chinese companies, including state-owned ones, have plans for expanding their business in Russia, much of which has to do with timber and other primary resources. But Gelbras is a reasonably serious researcher, who has criticised Yellow Peril fearmongering in the past, and even in this interview the main target of his criticism is Russian corruption.

I have come across a number of articles written by Chinese academics on Russians’ fears of Chinese immigration, one of them by Li Lifan of the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, who is a senior figure in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (the one that comprises Russia, China, and the Central Asian republics). These articles tend to deal with the fears as xenophobic responses to social instability and other factors, and in my view they are largely right. I wonder how Li would respond to the Gelbras interview.