Sunday, January 11, 2015

Reflecting on migration in China through Taiwan and Hong Kong

International migration is increasingly a fact of life in Chinese East Asia. We can see this most clearly by looking at Taiwan and Hong Kong, two polities which not only are--at the very least--autonomous from the government of the People's Republic but which, by virtue of their high levels of economic and human development, representing the end goal that much of urban China seems within reach of attaining.

Ji-Ping Lin's January 2012 overview essay at the Migration Policy Institute noted how Taiwan was increasingly seeing substantial international labour mobility, not only across the Taiwan Straits with China but with Southeast Asia. Increasingly strong Taiwanese ties with Southeast Asian economies, demands for particular kinds of labour, along with the common East Asian theme of Southeast Asian women migrating to richer countries to pursue marriage with locals, have led to the migration of hundreds of thousands of Southeast Asians to Taiwan, particularly of Vietnamese, Filipinos and Indonesians. As the Taiwanese population rapidly ages while access to the Chinese labour market remains problematic given issues of Taiwanese identity, it would not seem like a good idea to bet against the arugment that Taiwan in coming decades will be increasingly multicultural.

The similar sort of thing appears to be happening in Hong Kong. New immigrants to Hong Kong from mainland China are politically quite controversial, not least because of the alleged propensity of many female migrants to move to Hong Kong with the intent of giving birth to children with Hong Kong residency rights. The position of Filipinos and Indonesians, collectively numbering a quarter-million people and working particularly as domestic labourers, is also noteworthy. Hong Kong is more integrated with China than Taiwan because Hong Kong is in fact part of China, but even this autonomous Chinese city sees substantial migration from both Chinese and non-Chinese sources.

Why does this non-Chinese immigration even occur, when there are so many potential migrants from China? Particularly in the case of Taiwan, restrictions on Chinese immigration have much to do with concerns over national identity and the question of how much integration with China is desirable. Even if these restrictions were not in place, I would also suggest that some amount of international migration would be inevitable. Leaving aside issues like China's hukou system which limits migration to urban areas, Taiwan and Hong Kong are highly international polities. They have abundant and deep ties with non-Chinese regions, perhaps most noticeably for migration purposes with Southeast Asian countries, but not only with these. (One childhood acquaintance from Canada, I've recently learned, now works at an animation studio in Taipei.) How would Taiwan and Hong Kong trade with these non-Chinese countries and populations, invest in these territories, even engage in cultural exchanges with these people, without having some of these people have an interest in immigrating to these areas? Already, the proportions are starting to be noticeable.

My final point for the night is this. To what extent must the experiences of Taiwan and Hong Kong, globally renowned and economically successful, must differ from (for instance) Shanghai and the wider Pearl River conurbation? In an era where China again has the largest economy in the world, where many urban areas of China are already receiving very large numbers of migrants domestically, where shortages of labour are foreseeable given demographic change, and where China is building up all manner of ties with the entire planet, is there any reason not to suspect that globalized and successful China will not also become a notable destination for large numbers of immigrants?

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