A few Thoughts about the 100-Days Crackdown on Foreigners in China

“China’s crackdown on foreigners raises specter of xenophobia”, read the title of a weekly column by CNN columnist Jaime A. FlorCruz  on June 4. First thing that FlorCruz does is that he quotes his wife, who, like him, lives in Beijing:

“Does this mean I must now carry my passport everyday?” my wife Ana wondered aloud with a mix of bemusement and exasperation.

Umm… does this mean that she hasn’t done so in the past?

CCTV-9 host Yang Rui‘s Weibo comments on the 100-days campaign (scheduled to continue until the end of August)  is quoted. Then come an old China hand’s warnings about how ugly xenophobia can be, with examples from China in the 1970s.

On June 7, Shanghai police raided a party at Yongfu Road and took at least twelve foreigners away on a police van, according to an eyewitness.

That, to be clear, is a very unpleasant experience. But if the police acted on a sound legal basis, it isn’t wrong. The question if xenophobia [is] rearing its head again is inappropriate in context with the current campaign. Xenophobia has never ceased – but the desire to make sure that foreigners who stay in China are doing so legally is basically natural, and legitimate.

The problem with much of the recent international coverage on Beijing’s campaign is that it sheds an uncanny light on what is, basically, any country’s (including China’s) legitimate concern. This kind of coverage also trivializes genuine human-rights violations.

This is where names need to be rectified. It does feel uneasy to be arrested in China. It feels much more uneasy that to get arrested in ones own country, or in a foreign country where you can expect that rule of law will apply. But these are questions foreigners in China might have asked themselves much earlier – say, before they first arrived in China.

If people get exasperated – see first paragraph – because they might be expected to carry their passport whenever they go out, their feelings seem to suggest that have taken too many things in China for granted. In Germany, a country which is – correctly, I believe – considered a lawful country, I have to carry either a passport or an ID card anytime. [See erlian‘s comment, #3 – JR] If I don’t – that’s how I understand the relevant law -, the police are free to arrest me for 24 hours before a judge decides on my case. And I am a German citizen, not a foreigner.

When foreigners are forced to leave China, and the authorities do not provide an explanation, this would be something foreigners might draw conclusions from. They may ask themselves if it makes sense to bet on a future in or with China. There was no reason to force Melissa Chan to leave the country, for example. But no country can be expected to tolerate foreigners who want to stay there without having done the necessary paperwork.

It’s time to either come up with cases where Chinese authorities are seriously fucking the 100-days campaign up – or to become reasonable.

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6 Comments to “A few Thoughts about the 100-Days Crackdown on Foreigners in China”

  1. Never carried my passport with me for the five years I was in China for the very simple reason that it would be a total pain in the ass if I lost it and there is no real reason to make people behaving lawfully carry it, although most of the time I kept a photocopy on me just to be on the safe side I was never asked to show it. Taiwan issues all foreign residents with ARC’s, and since these are much less trouble if lost than a passport I was willing (grudgingly) to carry it with me whilst in Taiwan.

    As for the UK, I oppose any and all attempts to introduce a national ID card system as I believe such a system would be a total waste of money, would persecute people simply for being forgetful, and would impose unnecessary duties on British subjects to carry ID cards that brought them no benefits. That the previous government was intent on introducing such a system was one of the reasons I supported the conservatives.

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  2. Foreigner or not, you do not have to carry your personalausweis or passport all the time in Germany, and the police are not free to arrest you for 24 hours. *Under certain circumstances* (e.g. in areas close to the border, on big train stations, on the autobahn) they are free to ask for your identity, and if you cannot sufficiently prove who you are, they are free to take you to the police station to check with the computer.

    Not sure how often they actually take people to the police station. Judging from experiences of some foreign friends who also like to keep their passports safely at home, the likelyhood is not very high. Though this probably varies quite a bit with luck, appearance, and location.

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  3. I handled it the other way round, FOARP – I had my passport with me, and a copy at home.

    Glad to read that German practice is more liberal than I thought, erlian. A list of situations where one is required to hand the police identification papers is listed here. The maximum hassle, under normal circumstances, seems to be that you’ll be taken to the police station to have your identity checked – as you wrote.

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  4. Even just carrying the thing around with me only on trips to HK, when travelling, and before getting my ARC in Taiwan, after 5 years of getting rained on, soaked with tropical sweat, and pawed over by officals my passport looked like it had been through a particularly muddy and wet rugby match. Defintiely not carrying the thing with me if it is avoidable.

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  5. Oh, and if you want another example of why national ID systems are, generally speaking, not a great idea, the confusion over what people do/do not have to do to stay within the law with them is a good one. People already do not know what their rights are during an encounter with the police (at most they know something from American tv shows), something that many police abuse (particuarly the ‘suspicion’ rule for grounds of search in the UK – ask a copper what their ‘suspicion’ actually is and you’ll often find they obfuscate), throwing IDs into the pot just makes a bad situation worse.

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  6. A lot can be said against a blanket or situational obligation to carry an ID. But it doesn’t say much about a political system. The most likely situation where an obligation to identify oneself can be abused is when there is no rule of law anyway – and I reckon that it was also more of a hassle in the past, when data wasn’t digitalized. (If digitalization in this field spells progress would be a different question.)

    In China, I usually carry my passport in a neck pouch, and after a few days, I barely notice it.

    I’d prefer German arrangements where there would be no need – not even in situations as referred to by erlian – to carry that thing. If Thomas Mann‘s Tonio Kröger reflects the realities of the late 19th century correctly, it seems you didn’t even need to carry an ID when travelling from Germany to Denmark, back then – at times we would hardly refer to as the heydays of liberalism here.

    But the heart of the matter seems to lie elsewhere, anyway – at biometrics, electronic surveillance, data protection, and the potential to abuse the system.

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