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Chinese Migration Alarms Border Patrol

The Federal Border Guard Service has raised the alarm over what it claims is a flood of more than 1 million Chinese immigrants that illegally moved into Russia over the past 18 months.

From January 1999 through June 2000, 1.5 million Chinese entered the country, of which only 237,000 were legally registered, said Alexander Shaikin, head of border control at the Federal Border Guard Service, speaking at a news conference on Thursday, Itar-Tass reported.

However, the Federal Migration Service found fault with the border guard service claims.

"We haven't noticed that we have a million Chinese citizens," said Yury Arkhipov, head of the immigration directorate. In fact, Arkhipov said illegal immigration is down in the Federal Migration Service's experience because of the easing of visa restrictions.

"There's a mass of people who come here for business," said Arkhipov. The figure of 1 million Chinese arrivals is feasible, but many of those are shuttle traders who travel back many times a month, he added. Other illegal immigrants merely use Russia as a transit stop as they emigrate to Western Europe and the United States.

The Federal Migration Service has warned before that the Chinese population could become the dominant group in the Far East in the next 20 to 30 years f and that is a cry the border service has taken up with a vengeance.

The two nations share a 4,500-kilometer border in Siberia and the Far East. While Russia's population is declining f the United Nations estimates it will fall from its current level of 145 million to 130 million by 2030 f China has a steady population of more than 1.2 billion occupying a smaller land area.

"The number of Chinese grows by the day, the 'quiet' expansion of China into Russian territory is happening," he said.

"What can we do?" said Viktor Mikhailovich, a Shaikin aide. "They all buy tourist visas and never come back."

However, Arkhipov at the Federal Migration Service said plenty is being done. The Russian and Chinese authorities work closely together against illegal immigration, he said. Interfax reported that Russian border guards had more than 250 meetings with their Chinese counterparts in the past six months.

Experts said immigration is increasing but that Russia faces a dilemma.

"The thing is the country's population is steeply falling," said Dmitry Trenin of the Moscow Carnegie Center. "And Russia will have a deficit in its work force. If the politics of immigration are worked successfully then it will help Russia bloom," said Trenin.

Two years ago, border service chief Nikolai Bordyuzha warned that Russia was in danger of ceding territory to China because of the influx of immigrants. Official statistics in 1998 put illegal immigrants from China at 100,000.

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