August 23rd, 2012 | Economic Observer Chinese Discrimination in Mongolia
Summary： Over recent years Chinese migrant workers have poured into Mongolia and clashed with locals. They face discrimination and often aggravate the situation through their own behavior. This has led to some violent conflicts and legislation aimed at keeping the number of foreign workers limited.
Zhao Wenjun (赵文俊) came to Ulan Bator, Mongolia three months ago from Erenhot, Inner Mongolia to be a chef at a Chinese restaurant. Since he started, he’s spent nearly all his time in the restaurant. He regards wandering the streets as a luxury.
On the day he arrived, Zhao was told not to go out alone at night since Mongolians don’t like Chinese people. Although he’d met Mongolian people before without incident, he decided to heed the warning.
“It is their place,” Zhao said. “Better to be careful.”
“Actually it isn’t that bad,” said the manager of the restaurant surnamed Wang. Wang has been in Mongolia for over four years. He says conflicts between Chinese and Mongolians happen occasionally, but sometimes it’s actually the Chinese person’s fault.
Fights with Chinese Workers
Zhao’s concerns are common for Chinese workers who have just come to Mongolia. The term “Chinese worker” has even become politically loaded in the country.
Although not every Chinese worker encounters conflicts with locals, a few past incidents that have been exaggerated through word-of-mouth make the situation seem terrifying.
“There are lots of drunken Mongolian men on the street at night,” said one Chinese resident. “If they see that you’re Chinese, they’ll bully you.”
Zhao Jurong (赵巨荣), chairman of a real estate company in Mongolia, told the EO that in recent years the booming Mongolian real estate industry has created demand for a large number of skilled workers, which has attracted many Chinese. Conflicts involving Chinese workers aren’t something new in Ulan Bator.
Most of time, conflicts arise from language barriers and misunderstanding one another. Most Chinese workers in Mongolia are from southern China, where people tend to speak very fast with high voices. Conversely, Mongolians speak softly, and only raise their voices when arguing. When in a close contact, Mongolians might misinterpret Chinese people and think they’re being scolded.
Chinese workers can also aggravate problems through their own behavior. Some discriminate against Mongolians, calling them sluggish or alcoholic. Sometimes they mock Mongolia’s lack of development compared to China’s or say, “Mongolia was once our territory.” Mongolians don’t take too kindly to this.
Zhao said that construction teams tend to have people from the same regions of China with anywhere from a dozen to a hundred people in them. If one or two Mongolians have a conflict with that many Chinese people, of course they’ll be at a disadvantage. In those situations, Mongolians will sometimes call radical right-wing organizations and get dozens of people to turn up. Then the conflict basically descends into a gang war.
Since last year, Chinese-run construction sites have experienced many violent clashes between Mongolian and Chinese workers. When these incidents occur, Chinese are usually detained. The Chinese embassy may come to help, but there’s little it can do. Once someone has gotten involved in a fight, then they’ve broken the law.
This year, one construction group in Ulan Bator had a large fight that involved more than 20 Chinese people and over 70 Mongolians, mostly from the right-wing group Dayar Mongol (大亚蒙古). Fortunately the company called the police in time and it didn’t get too out of control, but in the end, five Chinese were injured.
In recent years, several anti-Chinese organizations like Dayar Mongol, Blue Mongolia and World Children Protection have emerged; and they’re all legal. Their clothes and cars sometimes even display Nazi swastikas. But they aren’t only against Chinese. They target all foreigners. Chinese simply make up the largest foreign population.
It’s hard to say how many are involved with these organizations. After a few days of interviews in Mongolia, some said there were dozens, some said hundreds. For the most part, they hold ordinary jobs, but when incidents occur, they’ll contact each other and gather quickly.
Dislike of Chinese People
Liu Ba Te Er (刘巴特尔), president of the Chamber of Commerce of Inner Mongolia in Mongolia, said that Mongolians are indeed not very fond of Chinese people; it’s an objective reality. He says you can feel it when going out in public. Some taxi drivers will refuse service to Chinese people and at some tourism sites in suburban Ulan Bator will raise fees for Chinese.
Liu said that Mongolian people have a very strange mentality. Economically, they rely on Chinese people very much and often ask them for help. But politically, you’ll only be popular if you say bad things about Chinese. When running for office, no one dares say that they’re a friend of the Chinese people. Some Mongolian officials even talk to their friends from Beijing and tell them not to worry about the anti-China remarks they have to make in public. It’s just politics.
Anti-China sentiment also comes from a Mongolian version of the “China threat theory.” The thinking is that China has already taken Hong Kong and Macau back, soon it will get Taiwan, then next it will set its sights on Mongolia. This view is very popular in Mongolia and is part of the rhetoric of some anti-China organizations.
Liu Ba Te Er said that Mongolia’s attitude toward China has largely spread to the public from the government. Because of historical disputes, China is a natural enemy that politicians can use in riling up nationalistic support.
To some degree, leaders have had to cater to anti-foreign sentiment in the form of legislation. Mongolia has issued laws to control migrant workers in the country; like setting a quota saying their numbers can’t exceed one percent of the Mongolian population. Based on Mongolia’s population of 2.8 million, the number of foreign workers can’t exceed 28,000.
In the real estate industry, builders must recruit seven Mongolian workers for every Chinese worker they bring in. In the mining industry, that ratio is nine-to-one.
Zhao said that according to this standard, the demand for Chinese workers can’t be met at all. In reality, the number of Chinese workers is far beyond this line. The policy has only served to make things more complicated and push up labor costs.
It’s not easy to find workers in Ulan Bator. Although Mongolians often complain that Chinese workers are taking their jobs, when companies come to recruit, there’s a small pool of local laborers.
Even if a company can find Mongolian workers, management is a headache. From the view of Chinese bosses, Mongolian workers are lazy, alcoholic and unwilling to adhere to normal working hours. No matter whether it’s in the real estate or mining industry, Chinese bosses tend to prefer Chinese workers, even if the cost is higher.
For construction workers at Zhao Jurong’s real estate company, the salary for a skilled worker is about 10,000 yuan per month. On top of this, the company also needs to pay 1,500 yuan to the Mongolian government for each worker.
“Now, the salary in China has also risen,” said Zhao. “If I don’t double up, workers won’t come here.”
This year he hired more than 400 workers from China, who are all on work visas for six months to one year. The management of Mongolian and Chinese workers stays separate, with rules for Chinese employees stating that they can’t go out beyond the construction site and they can’t drink.
Zhao said that of course, there will be some loopholes in management. After all, you can’t restrict workers’ personal freedom. He says that there are always workers sneaking out. But when this happens you don’t need to look very hard for them. There’s an 80 percent chance they’ll end up at the police station.
By Song Fuli (宋馥李), Zhang Hong (张宏), Wang Jinghuai (王井怀)
Translated by Zhu Na