by Bertil Lintner
An American immigration officer interviews a Chinese seeking asylum on the basis that he is a Christian who fears for his life if he's sent home. Asked how Jesus died, the man replies: 'The communists shot him with a machine gun.'
This is one of many astonishing details in World.Wide.Web, an excellent book which describes the vast migration of Chinese since the start of the reform era in 1978.
'Western intelligence officials believe that perhaps as many as two million people from the People's Republic of China have migrated legally or illegally since 1978. They estimate that 30,000 to 40,000 a year go to the United States - the preferred destination - and the same number to the rest of the world.'
The book is meticulously researched, with interviews and case studies gathered by author Bertil Lintner during extensive travel to the countries which receive the migrants or are transit points.
A Swedish journalist based in Thailand, Lintner is the author of six works on Asia and has written extensively on Myanmar.
The networks which smuggle Chinese into the US and Europe are well-financed and highly organised. The going rate for a one-way ticket into the US is US$35,000 to US$40,000, and to Europe, US$10,000 to US$15,000.
The migrants usually go first to Bangkok, where a Chinese can obtain a 30-day visa on arrival. There, they buy doctored or false Singaporean or Japanese passports. In the transit lounge of Narita airport, a member of the smuggling gang gives them a boarding pass for a flight to the US. En route, the migrant throws his false passport and boarding pass into the toilet of the plane and applies for political asylum in the US or Europe; he must prevent immigration officials from being able to retrace his journey.
The migrants are instructed what to say. So, while some give themselves away like the fake Christian, most are granted admission, assisted by the growing number of American lawyers in New York and other big cities who know the loopholes in the law.
'The big snakeheads are generally Chinese living overseas who invest money in a smuggling operation and oversee it, but they are usually not known by those being smuggled. Or, if they are based in China, they are either former or current Chinese government employees,' Lintner writes.
The migration is on a scale never known before, with people coming from all parts of China, not only the traditional areas in the southeast coastal provinces, and going to countries where few went in the past. In Eastern Europe, Hungary has received the largest influx; they run thousands of shops, restaurants and plazas.
There is an excellent chapter on the Russian Far East, which used to be part of China and may become so again. This vast area of 6.25 million square kilometres has just 6.5 million people, down from nine million at the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. It depends on China for food and consumer goods.
A local survey found 47 per cent of Russians there believe there is a real possibility of the territory being annexed by China. 'The central Russian authorities, far away in Moscow, are slowly losing both political and economic control over the Far East ... The most powerful crime lord is no longer a Russian godfather but a Chinese called 'Elder Brother',' Lintner writes.