Migration, the Law and ‘One Belt, One Road’

Lutz-Christian Wolff, Chao Xi, Legal Dimensions of China's Belt and Road Initiative, Hong Kong, Wolters Kluwer (November 2016)

15 Pages Posted: 19 Jan 2017

See all articles by Pilar Czoske

Pilar Czoske

University of Cologne

Björn Ahl

Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Cologne

Date Written: January 15, 2017


Although China is well known for its massive flows of domestic migration and the emigration of Chinese citizens to foreign countries, it has largely gone unnoticed that China is emerging as a major destination of international migration. Over the next two decades, the continuing growth of the economy; the transition to an urban and service-based economy that demands highly skilled labour; and demographic trends will probably lead to increasing shortages of labour, which will further fuel international migration to China. Chinese migration laws and administrative structures were designed for the small numbers of foreign nationals travelling to and residing in China during the 1980s. However, they could not cope with migration, which increased particularly after China’s accession to the WTO. The first systematic attempt to modernise migration legislation on the national level was the adoption of the Law on Exit and Entry Administration in 2012, which incorporated earlier reforms such as the permanent residence scheme of 2004. Given the size of the overall population of China, the number of foreign residents (593,832 as counted in the 2010 census) remains very small and accounts for only about 0.05% of the national population.

The “One Belt, One Road” (“B&R”) initiative sets out five “cooperation priorities”: coordination of policies, coordination of infrastructure projects, guarantee of free trade, financial coordination and “people-to-people bond”. Under the “people-to-people bond” priority, the B&R initiative emphasises the expansion of cultural exchange, tourism and personnel in the area of science and technology across the cooperating states. The B&R action plan for 2015-2017 is intended to increase the coordination of joint programmes in setting international standards for qualifying global talent. In an interview, Zhou Liqun, a member of the Chinese Peoples’ Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), stated that “talent” will have a key role in advancing the B&R initiative. Chinese nationals must receive adequate training to become global experts, and foreign talents must be lured into the country. Although the B&R initiative itself has not specified concrete measures for how to attract foreign talent, over the last two years new policies governing international migration to China have been promoting changes to the legal regime in terms of attracting highly skilled foreign nationals.

In this chapter, we examine how recent migration policies and regulations relate to the implementation of the B&R initiative. We argue that although key documents of the B&R initiative do not explicitly touch on the attraction of foreign talent, recent developments related to the work and residence of foreigners in China will have a positive effect on implementing B&R projects. Moreover, the B&R initiative serves as a strategic economic development plan, which in turn may increase the global attractiveness of China as a migration destination. We start our analysis by examining relevant B&R documents in relation to the attraction of foreign talents. We then analyse recent developments in national policies and legislation in the area of attracting foreign talents. As the directly administered city of Shanghai has taken the lead in attracting international talent, local policies and regulations in Shanghai must be scrutinised to identify trends that will probably be adopted at the national level later on.

Suggested Citation

Czoske, Pilar and Ahl, Björn, Migration, the Law and ‘One Belt, One Road’ (January 15, 2017). Lutz-Christian Wolff, Chao Xi, Legal Dimensions of China's Belt and Road Initiative, Hong Kong, Wolters Kluwer (November 2016). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2899824

Pilar Czoske (Contact Author)

University of Cologne ( email )

Cologne, 50923

Björn Ahl

Institute of East Asian Studies, University of Cologne ( email )

Cologne, 50923
+492214705421 (Phone)

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