Monday, September 17, 2007

China and the New (Old) Citizenship: Overseas Chinese, "Soft" Citizenship and the Homeland

The issue of migration and identity has been a troublesome one for some time. In the West, there is a great tension between a tendency to want to open borders to those people seeking to enter to improve their lives and join the host community and an equally strong tendency to want to close borders to migrants who come for the money and have no intention of assimilating to the host culture. Tied to the issue of migration, then, is the question of loyalty to host and home state. In a world in which ethnos and nationality converge, some argue the difficulty migrants face in seeking to change nationality. Ethnic citizenship and ethnic nationality portends poorly for individuals seeking to find a permanent home in a host state. The current trend, at least until the early 21st century, appears to look suspiciously on ethnic states, to suggest a strict division between culture/ethnicity and citizenship, and between political loyalty and socio-cultural assimilation. But all bets are off on this model in the aftermath of the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s and the imminent breakup of Iraq in the early 21st century. Those places suggest a reemergence of ethnos as a basis of nationality. The ethnic cleansing and mono ethnic state not tolerated when attempted by Serbia in the early 1990s, appears to be a model for places like Kosovo and Iraq, if only de facto.

Now the Chinese have weighed in on this issue in a very interesting way. China is an interesting case. A hybrid of sorts that may provide a window on the relationship between ethnicity and citizenship n the coming century. The Chinese Constitution declares the People's Republic to be a multi ethnic state.

Article 4. All nationalities in the People's Republic of China are equal. The state protects the lawful rights and interests of the minority nationalities and upholds and develops the relationship of equality, unity and mutual assistance among all of China's nationalities. Discrimination against and oppression of any nationality are prohibited; any acts that undermine the unity of the nationalities or instigate their secession are prohibited. . . . All the national autonomous areas are inalienable parts of the People's Republic of China. The people of all nationalities have the freedom to use and develop their own spoken and written languages, and to preserve or reform their own ways and customs.
At the same time, there are elements of ethnos in the Chinese constitutional order.
Article 50. The People's Republic of China protects the legitimate rights and interests of Chinese nationals residing abroad and protects the lawful rights and interests of returned overseas Chinese and of the family members of Chinese nationals residing abroad.

The meaning of this provision has not been clear. But recent reports suggest a broad applicati0on of the principles underlying this provision. Like the Irish in the 1990s, China is now seeking the return hom eof its most successful emigres.

The People's Daily has recently reported on a suggestion from Jia Qinglin, a member of the higher reaches of Chinese Communist Party circles, that implies that migration should not affect ultimate political loyalty of Chinese emigrants to their home state--at least among "overseas" Chinese. See China's Top Political Advisor Voices Five-Point Hope for Overseas Chinese, People's Daily Online (Sept. 16, 2007). The suggestion was made overseas--in Japan--and was targetted at the elite of China's emigré communities abroad. "China's top political advisor Jia Qinglin voiced in Kobe, Japan on Saturday his five-point hope for overseas Chinese when addressing the opening ceremony of the 9th World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention (WCEC)." China's Top Political Advisor, supra.

Essentially, Jia Qinglin made a pitch to Chinese emigrés to more positively participate in China's economic development by serving Chinese interests abroad.
the first is that overseas Chinese can live harmoniously with local people and actively push forward the development and progress of the country they live in.

The second is that China welcomes overseas Chinese, with their own advantages, to take part in China's modernization in various forms.

The third is that overseas Chinese can be united closely in opposing "Taiwan independence" secessionist activities in any form, and continuously promote personnel, economic and cultural exchanges across the Straits so as to push for an early realization of China's reunification.

The fourth is that overseas Chinese, while learning from other countries, can carry forward and promote Chinese culture.

The fifth is that overseas Chinese can help promote people-to- people friendship between China and other countries in the world.
China's Top Political Advisor, supra. The venue for this exposition was carefully chosen. It was made at the Japanese meeting of the 9th World Chinese Entrepreneurs Conference. " The WCEC was first held 1991 in Singapore. Since then, it has been held in Hong Kong, China, Bangkok, Thailand, Vancouver, Canada, Melbourne, Australia, Nanjing, China, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Seoul, Republic of Korea, promoting local as well as regional and national economy of the host countries." Backgrounder: World Chinese Entrepreneurs Convention (WCEC), People's Daily Online, Sept. 15, 2007. The WCEC described the conference in these terms: "Ethnic Chinese businessmen from all over the world(Executives of Chinese ancestry) got together and they discussed about establishing economic networks and focused on the revitalization of Ethnic Chinese and Decent Chinese economics; Whose purpose is that contribute to economic development for the host country." The 9th World Chinese Entrepreneurs Conference, About the 9th World Chinese Entrepreneurs Conference.

The language of the five point plan was thus meant to be clearly economic--China seeks to more pro-actively harness the great wealth and networks of overseas Chinese communities. It was also sensitive to the realities of the precariousness of Chinese settlement in may countries in Asia, where they are still viewed as unassimilable and as neo-colonialist outside exploiters. But that, itself, is telling of the difficulties of getting away from ethnos as a touchstone of belonging to political communities (irrespective of assimilation though complicating its effects--even outside the West). On the Chinses disaspora in Malaysia, a particularly sensitive spot in this respect, see Jonathan Kent, Chinese Disaspora: Malaysia, BBC News Online, March 3, 2005 (describing the changes in the Malay Chinese community since the anti Chinese riots of 1969. "Most visitors to Malaysia are struck by how successfully the country's Chinese population has preserved its identity - in contrast to Thailand, for instance, which has operated a policy of assimilation. "We're like a little backwater of Chinese culture as it was in China 80 years ago," said heritage architect Jimmy Lim." Id.).

It also mirrors the fluidity of citizenship that finds expression in its Nationality Law. See Nationality Law of the People's Republic of China (Article 2 The People's Republic of China is a unitary multinational state; persons belonging to any of the nationalities in China shall have Chinese nationality; Article 9 Any Chinese national who has settled abroad and who has been naturalized as a foreign national or has acquired foreign nationality of his own free will shall automatically lose Chinese nationality.). That fluidity of meaning has marked the last century of Chinese history, and is only now becoming more conventional in a globally understood sense. See the essays in Changing Meanings of Citizenship in China (Merle Goldman, Elizabeth J. Perry, eds., Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2002).

But there is a cultural and political element as well. The call to resist Taiwanese independence is no surprise. Chinese officials have been seeking every means to counter the increasingly vocal campaign by Taiwan to seek to regularize its status outside of China. More interesting is the call to learn from other countries, sometimes the country of citizenship, and "carry forward and promote Chinese culture." Citizenship does not seem to affect either the cultural foundations of the individual, or an obligation to promote the interests of the home state through culture. Chinese citizens of foreign states appear bound to learn what they can from their foreign hosts and promote Chinese culture in that foreign land. To the extent these foreign nationals living abroad are family members of Chinese nationals, the Chinese state has an obligation to protect their legitimate rights and interests. Chinese Constitution art. 50. Those interests are cultural, but principally economic.

China has been increasingly projecting power abroad. It has done so in traditional ways--through extensive military exercises and entanglements, through aggressive investments abroad and the locking up of the natural resources of other states (especially in Africa and South America), through a more active diplomacy. And now, in a most interesting way, through the reconstitution of "soft" citizenship based on ethnos, within a formal construct of citizenship based on residence and application. Ethnic Chinese may become formal citizens of other places, but they remain "Chinese", and to that extent owe a soft allegiance to the source of culture and ethnic identity. In return, the state owes to them an obligation to protect their interests as "soft" Chinese. That is the understanding that
Jia Qinglin means to elaborate. That is the understanding that Malay Chinese understand as they look to a reinvigoated China to protect their interests as Chinese Malay citizens.

"From 1969 onwards the Chinese actually fought to preserve their culture, heritage and... education," said Jadryn Loo. The 1998 anti-Chinese riots in Indonesia reinforced the sense of insecurity. But an emergent China could change all that, particularly if Malaysia's Chinese community can act as a bridge to the new big boy on the block. "We will feel much safer, and in fact we will feel much [more] important when China emerges as a superpower," said Jadryn Loo.
Jonathan Kent, Chinese Disaspora: Malaysia, BBC News Online, March 3, 2005. We return, in a sense, to an old fashioned approach to multi layered citizenship. Formal citizenship becomes merely the beginning of an analysis of political, cultural, ethnic and affective loyalty and affinity loyalties. "Soft" citizenship may become as important as formal citizenship in the coming century. In that respect China may be pointing the way to a different sort of future. But beware, "soft" citizenship can bite. To the extent it becomes a thinly veiled means for bullying less powerful countries through effort to directly reach Chinese ethnics in those states, it smacks of the sort of neo-colonialism that China had traditionally been in the forefront against. To the extent it can proceed only outward--from out of China and not into China, the policy runs the risk of being discredited as another means of exploiting economic power unfairly. That may not be in China's log term interests. But this last point severely affects China's internal security and the balance of its ethnic policies, especially in the Uighur regions. It is likely that were Jia Qinglin's suggestions to come from the mouth of the Kazakh Prime Minister, and directed to the Turkic people's of China, the protests in China would be loud indeed.

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