Should China lift the ban on dual citizenship in the wake of the emigration wave?
China has seen a mass exodus to foreign countries led by new rich people and intellectual elite. Speculation of the viability of changing the current strict policy of single nationality to recognize dual citizenship, has arose, which is thought to be conducive to attracting overseas talents, capital and technology and offsetting losses caused by the emigration wave.
According to Zhang Xiuqin, Director General for the Department of International Cooperation and Exchange under the Ministry of Education, as of 2008, about 1.39 million Chinese have gone abroad for higher education, the most by country in the world, but only 390,000 returned. A report published by Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in April, 2010 says that China has become the world’s largest “exporter of emigrants.” In 2009, 25,000 people immigrated from the People’s Republic of China to Canada. Multiply that number by 400,000 Canadian dollars, which is the minimum amount of investment to qualify, and you get that at least 10 billion Canadian dollars (US$9 billion) flowed from China into Canada that year.
On June 16, 2010, the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office of the State Council announced that the number of Chinese expats has exceeded 45 million, ranking first in the world in absolute terms. Economic Observer (newspaper) reported at the end of 2010 that three waves of emigration have emerged in China since the economic reform (Reform and Opening Up). Unlike the previous two waves, the first consisting of laborers in late 1970s and the second consisting of mostly students in the 90s, bellwethers of the current wave are a new rich class and the intellectual elite, and the diaspora is gathering steam in the past 10 years. Canada alone has drawn 1.2 million Chinese to settle down.
In order to attract foreign capital and talents and pull back Chinese entrepreneurs of foreign nationality, August 15, 2004, Ministry of Public Security and Ministry of Foreign Affairs implemented Regulations on Examination and Approval of Permanent Residence of Aliens in China. Any foreign nationals, including Chinese of foreign citizenship, can get Chinese “green card” to obtain permanent residence, as long as they meet the qualifications.
However, the threshold is so absurdly high as to stultify the regulations. Take immigration through direct investment as an example, an applicant has to pour either US$500,000 into western China, the least developed region of the country, or 1 million dollars into central China, or a total of 2 million dollars in anywhere in China. Many Chinese expats who wish to return and start enterprises flinch at the large sum.
For Chinese expatriates, China’s current prohibition of multiple citizenship has been a great hindrance to Chinese expatriates when they apply for return visa and residence permit, and compound their difficulties if they wish to start a business or settle down, since paperwork and red tape procedure is extremely cumbersome. Recognizing dual nationality can encourage and facilitate the influx of talent and attract more foreign capital.
South Korea, for example, had been strictly observing its Nationality Law passed in 1948 that does not allow adults and foreigners living in the country to hold multiple citizenship.
However, a revision was passed on April 21, 2010 by the Korean National Assembly and went into effect on January 1, 2011. It permits multiple citizenship to people meeting certain conditions, as part of efforts to prevent a brain drain and pave the way for talented foreigners to obtain Korean citizenship without giving up their nationality.
According to South Korean Ministry of Justice, in the most recent 10 years, about 50,000 foreigners have become naturalized Korean citizens, while as much as 170,000 Koreans gave up their citizenship. Most of them belong to the middle class and/or are skilled professionals in various fields.
Overseas Chinese have made great contributions to China’s reform and opening up. From 1978 to 2005, the Chinese government has introduced total foreign investment of about US$622.4 billion dollars, of which about 67% are credited to Chinese. About 70% of over 550,000 foreign-funded enterprises were established by overseas Chinese. More than seven million Chinese emigrated to foreign countries since the reform and opening up. More than a million Chinese students are studying abroad. They combined have enormous financial, technical and intellectual resources.
In 2003, New Canadian Community Centre organized by Mandarin-speaking Chinese and Toronto service conducted an online opinion poll that targeted Chinese immigrants. The result showed that 92.6% of respondents thought the Chinese government should allow Chinese immigrants to retain Chinese nationality upon naturalization into a foreign country that recognizes dual citizenship.
Dual citizenship is also a middle ground for Chinese who have the means and the will to emigrate, but wish to leave some wiggle room anyway. They emigrated because of lack of faith in the current Chinese regime or the society or whatever factors that make them gravitate towards the U.S. and other developed countries. But if they had a choice, they would retain the Chinese citizenship because of the cultural identity, family ties, human networks and rosy prospects of the Chinese economy.
Most overseas Chinese still speak, think and act the way a typical Chinese does. They say they still love and are deeply attached to China, but their concerns for life of their own and their children have prevails, and now that they could only choose one nationality, they gave up the Chinese roots on paper, a gesture that many Chinese, out of nationalism and perhaps a little jealousy, accuse as selfishness, betrayal, and even treason.
When they, notable people in particular, return to China to keep pursuing their original career or start a new enterprise, they are often condemned as hypocrite and double-crosser that professes to be a contributor to China while in fact paying taxes to another country. “You have the right to change your nationality,” a web user commented on a story about Chinese celebs that have taken an oath of allegiance to other countries, “But please don’t say you still love China anymore.” “This is sick and a betrayal of your oath to your new country,” another commenter wrote.
Before late Qing Dynasty, obtaining citizenship of a foreign country never occurred to Chinese, as they prided themselves on being subjects of the celestial court, the heavenly kingdom, and dismissed people from elsewhere as barbarians.
According to Financial Times’ interview of Ge Jianxiong, professor and director of Institute of Chinese History and Geography Studies of Fudan University, coinciding with the decline of Qing’s power was the end of its reclusive Closed Door Policy. Central and local governments turned a blind eye to foreigners entering the Chinese border.
After the signing of Boxer Protocol (1901), an unequal treaty that disadvantaged China, the Qing Dynasty established Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Not until then did China begin to introduce the concept of citizenship and passport.
In 1909, Qing government implemented China’s first Nationality Law, in which it stated that, “If one of Chinese descent that was born and/or live in a foreign country is willing to be a citizen of China, s/he still has Chinese citizenship.”
During the rule of the Republic of China, Chinese and foreigners could enter and exit unimpeded as long as they have the means, Therefore, nearly two thousands of Jewish refugees poured into Shanghai during World War II to stay in temporary shelters.
In 1955, the Communist China abolished previous nationality laws and thereby forbids anyone to hold at the same time Chinese and foreign passports.
According to Wang Huiyao, Vice Chairman of China Western Returned Scholars Association, So far, over 90 countries and regions worldwide recognize multiple citizenships. Among them, most of those that did not flop over until recent years are emergent countries that are the birthplace of a large population of high-end talents who now reside abroad, such as South Korea, Vietnam, India, Philippines, Brazil and Mexico.