Beijing to “Clean Up” Illegal Foreigners

Beijing authorities have announced the start of a 100-day campaign to “clean up” foreigners who fall into the “3 Have-Not” categories: no valid visa, no valid residence permit, or (where applicable) no valid work permit. From China Daily, with CDT’s emphasis:

Popular Beijing spots for foreigners, such as Sanlitun and university areas, will be targeted by police in a fresh drive against visitors who commit crimes, outstay their visas or gain illegal employment, authorities said on Monday ….

Foreigners must carry passports and accommodation registration documents at all times in line with Chinese regulations. “We will enforce the rule and make sure that every foreigner knows that,” Lin told China Daily ….

The capital has reported 13,000 cases of illegal entry, overstaying and illegal employment concerning foreigners from more than one hundred countries since 2008, according to exit-entry statistics.

Citizens have been invited to help by tipping off police at a special phone hotline, with a dramatic “striking fist” graphic urging them on. Proper enforcement of immigration rules in itself is uncontroversial and perhaps, as Bill Bishop wrote at Sinocism, “long overdue”. But the vehemence of online approval has startled some observers. While Danwei’s Jeremy Goldkorn told The Wall Street Journal that “the online reaction is a little scary … but I don’t think this necessarily reflects any general rise in anti-foreigner sentiment,” Tea Leaf Nation’s survey of responses from Sina Weibo paints an unsettling picture:

The overall tone of discussion will surely be deeply troubling to anyone who has ever had to be an “outsider.” @魚魚桑 honed in on, and lauded, the dangerous semantics employed by Beijing police: “‘Clean up’…This is really the right word to use. I feel like it’s cleaning up trash from the street.”

Others piled on, in many cases disregarding the original distinction between illegal foreigners and legal foreigners. @Bob_慕小落 wrote, “Clean slowly, so that not a single one is left.” But @味同烂嚼 wanted speed: “We should thoroughly clean up, hurry up and clean up, I don’t want to see these disgusting people anymore.” @山哥SANGER opined, “White-skinned pigs [白皮猪], black devils [黑鬼], sticks [棒子, a slur referring to Koreans], devils [鬼子], Southeast Asian monkeys [东南亚猴子] and other kinds of foreign trash should all be swept out the door ….”

While it would be comforting to conclude the vitriol spewed online represents a minority, if this is the case cooler heads have spent a great deal of time sitting sideline. One culprit behind such anti-foreigner sentiment is the sense that foreigners have been given special treatment for too long. As @Ren类已经无法阻止我了 asked ironically, “Has Beijing begun to pay attention to we second-class citizens?” @Mantarine agreed, “Chinese have been too tolerant of foreigners … some foreigners’ conduct has really been over the top.”

Ministry of Tofu collected and translated some more weibo reactions, including Goldkorn’s:

Jeremy Goldkorn (South African, founder of Danwei.org): I am officially, seriously and sincerely a three-have laowai. Visa, residence permit, and work permit, I have them all. I am also a three-no laowai: I am no rapist, no fraud, and I steal no job from Chinese. Nevertheless, there are surely people who call me “foreign trash” or whatever.

刘仰: In the future, there will just be more and more foreign losers, who fare poorly in their countries and want to come to China to muddle along for food, drink and women. Because some Chinese are cheap and turn China into a paradise for foreign losers. Of course, another possibility cannot be rooted out, which is, some foreign losers are not really losers; they just act like one to disguiser their real identity and are up to something. So, a clean-up is necessary.

痞痞兔: Should also clean up those “foreign nationals’ fathers” (alluding to Chinese cadres whose children are naturalized foreign citizens) who engage in illegal activities in China. Many of those three-have foreign nationals’ fathers have a source of income (large-sum gray income), have fixed and regular abode (several houses), have a formal job (civil servants); some even stay in China for nothing but committing a crime (embezzling public funds and taking bribes).

Resentment of the “free pass” given to foreigners also surfaced, ironically, in chinaSMACK’s collection of responses to a BBC report on China’s growing global popularity:

腾讯网友 夜莺:

Just take a look at the whities getting VIP treatment in China and you’ll know, this problem is inevitable.

腾讯芜湖市网友 白开水:

Foreigners from developed nations enjoy privileged protection in China, or as they say foreigners are first class, officials are second class, minorities are third class and Han are fourth class. Here in China the exact same thing can happen to foreigners and Chinese but will have completely different outcomes, just like differing chemical reactions. It’s very simple, just look at how even big shot officials are ranked behind foreigners and you’ll know just how big the disparity is.

(See ‘Is China Squandering its Soft Power Investments?‘ for more on the BBC survey.)

The campaign comes amid a wave of what Harry Kazianis at The Diplomat describes as “old fashioned jingoism” from Chinese media over tensions with the Philippines in the South China Sea, possibly in an attempt to distract from political controversies at home.

Over the last several weeks, as Western media has followed the unfolding of events of Chen Guangcheng’s dash to the U.S. embassy in Beijing, which came on the heels of the Bo Xilai scandal, Chinese media has shifted its gaze elsewhere. In the South China Sea or West Philippine Sea, depending on which party you ask, tensions are being stoked in the form of provocative editorials, reporting, and the actions of Chinese journalists. Such reporting – nothing more than old fashioned jingoism – sets a dangerous precedent in an area of the world that is already rife with tensions. And, while such coverage is useful for turning the page on China’s internal political soap operas, fueling the fires of Chinese nationalism can only inject a dangerous element that, if left unchecked, could make it harder for either side to compromise ….

Social media is also ablaze with nationalistic and fire-spitting commentary. While Chinese censors are quick to repress any of the latest news or rumors concerning Bo or Chen, matters in the South China Sea seem like fair game. One microblogger named kongdehua declared, “the Philippines have basically been making irrational trouble, if they want to start a war then we will strike, no one fears them.” He went on to say in a widely quoted remark that, “If every Chinese spat once, we could drown (the Philippines).”

While authorities have denied that the campaign is linked to recent video of a British man sexually assaulting a Chinese woman, Josh Chin at China Real Time Report points to this as a turning point after a series of viral stories about foreign Good Samaritans.

The clean-up campaign arrives in the midst of a heated discussion among Chinese social media users about the way foreigners comport themselves in the country. Last week, the stories of two foreigners – one an American who bought French fries for a homeless woman in the city of Nanjing, the other a Brazilian man who was badly beaten by a trio of thieves after trying to stop a woman from having her bag pickpocketed in Dongguan – spread quickly online as Chinese Internet users engaged in a round of soul-searching over the belief that Good Samaritans in China are in relatively short supply.

A similar discussion took place late last year after a foreign tourist, 34-year-old Uruguayan Maria Fernanda, jumped into Hangzhou’s West Lake to save a drowning woman as dozens of Chinese onlookers stood idly by ….

But much of that goodwill has been erased in recent days thanks to the wide circulation online of a video that appears to show a foreigner caught in the middle of sexually assaulting a Chinese woman. In the video, uploaded on Wednesday and viewed more than 10 million times on Chinese video site Youku (warning: disturbing content), the foreigner is pulled away from the woman, scuffles briefly with a Chinese man and is later shown lying motionless in the street, where he is hit and kicked again before police arrive.

Netizens were also outraged recently by reports of a vicious and humiliating attack on two Chinese students on a Sydney train, which has left other Chinese residents deeply ill at ease. At the same time, and notwithstanding the findings of the BBC survey noted above, the attacks and references to the victims’ presumed wealth resonate with tensions between Chinese abroad and local populations elsewhere. In British Columbia, rich Chinese immigrants are widely (and unfairly) blamed for driving up property prices, while a group of Chinese students was stopped by police late last year for racing supercars on a public highway during rush hour. In Singapore on Saturday, a man from Sichuan and two others were killed after his Ferrari collided with a taxi. Shanghaiist’s Kenneth Tan describes the incident’s context and aftermath:

Anti-Chinese sentiment in Singapore is up following the accident, and outraged netizens have left thousands of angry comments on websites, bulletin boards and social networks.

The Temasek Times, a widely-read and largely anti-foreign news website, lambasted journalists from the mainstream media who “did not think nationality is an issue”.

Singapore’s population has exploded from 3.2 million in 2000 to 5.2 million in 2011, as the government ramped up its intake of immigrants. Mainland Chinese migrants have constituted a large part of newcomers due to lower fertility rates among the ethnic Chinese Singaporean community and the government’s belief that it is imperative to maintain the city-state’s current ethnic mix.

Mainland Chinese and other foreigners have been blamed for taking local jobs, depressing wages, pushing up real estate prices, and testing the limits of the public transportation network.