One China–Many Chinese: Beijing’s Win-Win Embrace of Overseas Chinese

China has announced a special five year visa available to all ethnic Chinese who do not live in or have citizenship of the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The move is aimed at restoring the bonds between Beijing and the Chinese people throughout the world. This represents an important step both for Beijing and for the wider Chinese world.

There is something very tragic about political divides separating people. A microcosm of such a concept is the purely artificial political divide in Korea, where a single Korean people have been unable to interact with one another because of a prolonged cold war conflict that has recently somewhat thawed thanks to the collective efforts of Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in, in the run up to the 2018 Winter Olympics.

For China, it has been a matter of ‘one people – many systems’ and this has served to divide the Chinese in the sense that the PRC often worried that Chinese from abroad, if allowed easy access to the PRC, would also import political ideas that would not serve the interests of national unity and national security. The fact that today, the PRC is willing to offer a five year in-and-out visa to Chinese from abroad is symptomatic of two important developments.

First of all, it demonstrates that since its foundation in 1949, the PRC has gone from a country fighting for recognition at the UN, to a country that the world cannot live without. Even while One Belt – One Road is still in its very early stages, the world’s commercial, intellectual, and increasingly, also cultural roads all lead to the PRC. Far from worrying about interlopers bearing the ‘exotic goods’ of foreign political systems, today, Beijing welcomes its brethren who, like most of the world’s non-Chinese, seek to learn from the political and economic experience of the PRC. In other words, the PRC is now a global success story that welcomes people to see just what China has been able to accomplish in such a short period of time.

Secondly, it shows that with restored confidence and world leadership credentials, the PRC is ready to embrace its own, the literally millions of Chinese who were born outside and live outside of the PRC. This includes not just the Chinese in Asia, but also those from further afield including those in North America. What’s more is that while forty years ago, a PRC citizen may have been curious about living in Singapore, Canada or the United States, today, it is Chinese from throughout the world that are ready, willing and now able to re-connect with the Chinese state.

Inversely, as the PRC engages in deeper peaceful economic and cultural connectivity throughout the world, Beijing can now benefit from hidden assets across many continents. Chinese people familiar with socio-political systems outside of China, but who naturally exhibit Chinese characteristics and who in many cases are multilingual people with either some knowledge of, or else fluent capabilities in Simplified Mandarin, means that China has ready made partners in cooperation in many key economies throughout the world who can now set up a home-base in the PRC while remaining part of the wider interconnected Chinese global space.

This amounts to a world-spanning win-win on many levels, from the economic and political to the emotional and historical. It can be characterised as a policy that ought to be called ‘One China – Many Chinese’, and it has been many years in the making.

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