Should the Ministry of Justice have sensed that proposals last month to change the residency rules for foreign nationals would stir up such a furore?
Probably not, in WiC’s view. For a start, it’s an unlikely time for foreign nationals to be queuing round the block as applicants, with the coronavirus still wreaking havoc in Chinese towns and cities. And what’s more, very few foreign nationals have been granted permanent residency in China in the past. No more than 10,000 people from 2004 to 2017 were given the right to stay, according to state media. The proposed reforms aren’t likely to change that much either, keeping the influx to much lower levels than countries like the United States, which issues about 1 million green cards a year.
But that’s just the way the Chinese public likes it, it seems, following a ferocious round of feedback to the redrafting of the residency rules.
The changes would make it a little easier for foreign applicants to apply for residency, provided that they exceed thresholds in income and expertise (it shouldn’t be a problem for Elon Musk, for example, who was promised a green card by Li Keqiang last year after telling the Chinese premier that he loved visiting China so much).
What’s more interesting is the public’s reaction to the plan – which was so intense that the Ministry of Justice closed the comments section on its original post. Why have these relatively obscure proposals provoked such heated discussion, the Economic Observer asks?
One reason is a longstanding sense of resentment that foreign residents get better treatment than China’s own citizens. Hence many Chinese nationals have demanded that foreigners should face the same restrictions as they do in matters like limits on having children and sending money overseas.
The anxiety that outsiders get a better deal, the newspaper adds, feeds to into what it describes as the psychological scarring from the country’s “semi-colonial history”.
Another of the undertones was a fear that the naturalised men will woo Chinese women, taking them out of the marriage market. There was a similar sense of disapproval on social media last year when a ‘buddy’ programme at Shandong University asked female students if they were “heterosexual” before pairing them with male foreign students (see WiC461).
This time around there is a strong undercurrent of Han nationalism in the debate as well – or at least the belief that China’s strength comes from its homogenous roots. “I will only say one thing: as Chinese where does the super-cohesion of our people and national pride come from?” asked another netizen. “When the country and people is at risk of calamity will the foreigners living here as a permanent population do their best for the nation?”
“China isn’t a country of immigrants, nor should it become one,” insisted an opinion piece in the Global Times. “The country needs experts, not an influx of labour. In some countries in the West a bunch of relatives arrives as soon as the migrants have settled down, which causes lots of problems. Such a lesson must be learned and cannot be repeated.”
Other responses were directly racist in tone, with thousands of comments warning against immigration from Africa, pointed out the blog The Beijinger.
And in fact, despite the latent hostility towards outsiders, some of the deepest suspicions about the new scheme were reserved for the Chinese who might try to game the system.
“‘Foreigners’ aren’t just foreign nationals. They include Chinese who’ve renounced their citizenship,” warned another contributor in comments typical of a fear that wealthy locals would exploit the new laws. “If this bill goes through, rich people will move their property from China then come back and live in China as a foreigner, and on top of that receive ‘overtreatment’. ”
Probably taken aback by the intensity of the response, the Ministry of Justice put out a statement a few days later saying that it would study public opinion and make amendments to the draft bill.
© ChinTell Ltd. All rights reserved.
Sponsored by HSBC.
The Week in China website and the weekly magazine publications are owned and maintained by ChinTell Limited, Hong Kong. Neither HSBC nor any member of the HSBC group of companies ("HSBC") endorses the contents and/or is involved in selecting, creating or editing the contents of the Week in China website or the Week in China magazine. The views expressed in these publications are solely the views of ChinTell Limited and do not necessarily reflect the views or investment ideas of HSBC. No responsibility will therefore be assumed by HSBC for the contents of these publications or for the errors or omissions therein.