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  • Blurring the Distinction between huaqiao and huaren:China's Changing Policy towards the Chinese Overseas
  • Leo Suryadinata (bio)

In 2015 there were two important events regarding Beijing's policy towards the Chinese overseas. One was the World Overseas Chinese Businessmen and Industrialists Conference in Beijing and the other was the announcement of the Huayi Card, specially designed for foreign citizens of Chinese descent working and residing in China. These events clearly manifest Beijing's "new policy" towards the Chinese overseas. Nevertheless, when examined closely, this policy change can be seen to have taken place much earlier, as reflected in previous events.

This chapter examines both the World Overseas Chinese Businessmen and Industrialists Conference and the Huayi Card, and the new policy's impact on the Chinese overseas, with special reference to Southeast Asia. It also explains when and why Beijing began to change its policy towards the Chinese overseas.

Clear Distinction between Huaqiao and Huaren

Beijing's policy towards Chinese overseas has been changing. During the Deng Xiaoping period, the distinction between huaqiao (华侨 Chinese citizens overseas) and huaren (华人 foreign citizens of Chinese descent) was quite clear.

After the resurgence of Deng Xiaoping, China promulgated the first PRC Citizenship (Nationality) Law in 1980, that stipulates that China only recognizes single citizenship. Once a Chinese overseas becomes the citizen of another country [End Page 101] voluntarily, he or she ceases to be a citizen of the People's Republic of China. The clear distinction between Chinese nationals and foreigners resolved the historical problem of dual nationality of the Chinese overseas.

Nevertheless, with the modernization of China and globalization, there have been waves of new Chinese migrations, known as xin yimin. But the destinations of the new migrants have been developed countries (especially in the West) rather than the developing countries of Southeast Asia (except Singapore). These new migrants proposed that China should revive the dual nationality policy for ethnic Chinese, as such was being practised in the West. The proposal was debated by the China's People's Consultative Body, but the 1980 Chinese Nationality Law remained unamended. Apparently the Chinese government felt the present citizenship law served Beijing's national interests well.

The most striking example of the distinction between China's nationals and foreigners can be seen in Beijing's attitude towards the anti–ethnic Chinese riots that took place in Indonesia in May 1998, which affected many Chinese Indonesians. Looting, burning, and the rape of Chinese women took place, which led to protests against Jakarta by the international Chinese community. However, Beijing did not make any comment or take any action until July 1998, when it stated that it was concerned with the tragic encounters of many Chinese Indonesians and expected that the Indonesian authorities would be able to protect its nationals regardless of their ethnicity.1

The reasons for Beijing's inaction in the Indonesian case remain speculative. Some are of the opinion that Beijing wanted to show the world that China would not interfere in the domestic affairs of a foreign country, as those affected for the most part were not Chinese citizens. In addition, Indonesia was friendly to the People's Republic of China (PRC), and was important to Beijing for reasons of international diplomacy. Others argued that Beijing during that time was not yet ready to conduct an active foreign policy. Whatever the reasons, it is clear that China's behaviour followed strictly China's single citizenship policy.

Beijing's Changing Policy

Blurring the Distinction

Beijing's policy towards the Chinese overseas started to change after the 1998 anti–ethnic Chinese riots in Indonesia. The change began in 2001 when Beijing revitalized the Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (OCAO, also known in Chinese as Qiaoban) and the Federation of Returned Overseas Chinese Associations (FROCA, [End Page 102] also known as Qiaolian). FROCA established the honorary positions of "Overseas Advisors" (haiwai guwen) and "Overseas Committee Members" (haiwai weiyuan) for the Chinese overseas. There were initially only 31 overseas advisors and overseas committee members.2 But by December 2013 the federation had invited 581 such members, representing 94 countries. The majority of the advisors and committee members are huaren, not huaqiao. Legally speaking, the semi-official FROCA is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1793-9135
Print ISSN
0377-5437
Pages
pp. 101-113
Launched on MUSE
2017-05-05
Open Access
No
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