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Fears Of 'Yellow Peril' Threat In Russian Far East

Vladivostok, June 17 (RFE/RL) - It is a kind of joke among westerners that you can see more Chinese people in the Chinatowns of London or New York than you can in Vladivostok.

Walking around this city of 600,000 people it is hard to find a Chinese restaurant let alone anything more exotic like handicrafts or herbal remedies.

What is sold in the kiosks or on the streets amounts to cheap clothes and goods to be found anywhere else in the world where there is not enough money to go round.

The Chinese Market, which is a half hour tram ride north east of the city centre, looks typically Russian. Despite the sign saying 'Trading Outside the Market is Prohibited' scores of locals line the entrance offering the usual fluffy kittens and tired-looking puppies for sale.

Squeezed in between grey, dismal-looking apartment blocks the open air market consists of several dozen plastic-covered stalls. There Russians compete with Chinese, Vietnamese and Central Asians to sell the same shoddy goods.

"Washing powder, batteries and nylon socks are the things that sell most at the moment," says Jian, a 22 year old Chinese trader who lives in the city.

Pausing to answer questions while translating for other Chinese stall holders, Jian says he came to Russia two years ago to study. But earning a living soon became a more pressing need.

He has a residence permit and works with friends and family back home who organise shipments of goods across the border from China's north-eastern province of Jilin.

There are no precise figures on how many Chinese are living and working in the city. Before the 1917 revolution every four out of five citizens were either Chinese or Korean. Stalinist deportations changed all that. Hundreds of Chinese didn't survive; they were shot as alleged spies.

More recently the policies of the local government have driven back thousands of traders and workers who have been coming over the border since the city opened up four years ago. The market itself has been raided several times in recent months and foreigners without proper visas or trading licences were deported.

This was one of the moves that has made the regional governor, Yevgeny Nazdratenko, so popular. He won with a landslide majority in local elections last December.

Dmitri Motovilov, a professor of journalism, says the crackdown named Operation Foreigner, which began two years ago, deliberately played on local people's fears of Chinese dominance.

Media reports have also stressed the threat of the so-called "Yellow Peril." The Chinese are accused of taking badly-needed jobs away from Russians. Their goods and workmanship are shown to be shoddy and unreliable. Even their food products are portrayed as inferior. jdw/

The situation has only added to the region's economic problems. The Chinese along with the Koreans and Vietnamese have helped make up the labour shortage in the Far East filling low-skilled, low-paid jobs.

Many locals would begrudgingly admit that the Chinese generally work harder than Russians and for less pay. When it comes to the border issue there is no mood for compromise. Under an agreement signed in 1991, Russia, then still the Soviet Union, is to cede 1,500 hectares of land to its giant neighbour.To most people of the Far East that is simply unacceptable.

Despite signs of a new-found friendship between Moscow and Beijing, the evidence on the ground is hard to find.