Saturday, July 8, 2017

Rights for expats in China

While most Chinese are convinced that foreigners "have it easy" in China, the truth is that operating in China as an outsider can be very difficult.

A group of foreigners in China have now started a Wechat channel called "expat rights", which recently came to my attention. The channel is supposed to agitate for the rights of foreign expatriates in the country. Unsurprisingly, they do not publicize their names (although since Wechat is a Chinese app, this doesn't exactly guarantee their anonymity). They claim to be currently applying for NGO status, although I would be extremely surprised if this was granted to them.

The group's "manifesto" lists the following four demands: "1.We would like China to treat "expats" with legal protections like Chinese get in our home countries. 2. We want a national ID card 3. We want police raids on expat establishments to stop. 4. We're tired of carrying our passport everywhere."

The first two points strike me as well meaning, but naive. The legal protections Chinese people get in 'our home countries" (supposedly referring to Western democracies) are the same protections that everyone gets in those countries, due to the presence of a properly functioning rule of law. Unfortunately no one really enjoys such protections in China, neither foreigners nor locals. National ID cards are indeed available to resident foreign nationals in many European countries, but given the way China works, it is just unthinkable that foreigners will be given their own 身份证 any time soon (although perhaps asking for it might do no harm? Like Che Guevara said, "be realistic, demand the impossible").

The last two points seem more realistic. The constant raids that bars frequented by foreigners have been subjected to in Beijing are unjustifiable and serve no good purpose (or perhaps the purpose of scaring foreigners away from Beijing?). The legal requirement that foreigners who live in China carry their passport with them at all times is unreasonable and not in line with the laws of most countries of the world. Few foreigners follow it, at most carrying a photocopy with them. And while the police may normally accept a photocopy, the law states that you should have the original on you, leaving them an avenue to harass random foreigners when they want to (for instance during the above-mentioned raids).

The group's introductory page finishes with a call to "make a better China, together", trying to make use of the harmonious-sounding language employed by Chinese groups fighting for social change. The other articles on their Wechat channel include one entitled "We teach illegally for you, China", denouncing the hypocrisy behind the crackdowns on foreign English teachers without the right visa, an article calling for all hotels in China to accept foreign guests (some don't), and other articles denouncing cases of petty racism against foreigners. There is also practical advice on what foreigners should do if they are caught in a legal dispute with their employer, and on how to claim the money from their Chinese pension fund back before leaving the country.

I don't know who the people behind this initiative are and I don't necessarily agree with all their views, but they've definitely got guts.


justrecently said...

I don't think they're naive. The legal protections Chinese people get in 'our home countries' is a Trojan horse: if foreigners get those rights in China, Chinese citizens would have a nationalistic ace. The government can't treat foreigners better by law, than Chinese nationals.

The raids are (at least partly) motivated by xenophobia. This is how the party makes Chinese nationals feel proud.

FOARP said...

"an article calling for all hotels in China to accept foreign guests (some don't)"

Isn't it basically the majority that don't? OK, so I'm at least 10 years out of date on this, but I remember it being only about a third to a half actually took foreign guests. Of course many of the ones that don't are basically grotty as hell and not worth staying at unless you're short on cash.

Ji Xiang said...

Well it depends on the place and everything, it's difficult to make general statements in China, but I would hesitate to say that the majority of hotels don't accept foreigners.

When I have spent the night in the countryside of Beijing municipality, I have never found a hotel or 农家院 that had a problem with accepting foreigners. Then again, I have heard of hotels in the city of Beijing itself that won't take foreigners. Travelling around, I've had the greatest problem in Shijiazhuang, where most hotels seem to be unable to accept foreigners. I have heard that it is because the local police expects the hotel staff to go to the police station and register any foreigners that stay with them, so they consider it too much trouble. Even chain hotels like 如家酒店 that normally accept foreigners everywhere in China won't let you stay with them in Shijiazhuang. I was forced to stay in a very fancy hotel that was really over my budget.

Then again, when I travelled in a remote province like Ningxia I never had any trouble, staying in middle to upper-end hotels. I think in many cities it's only the very cheap and grotty places that won't accept foreigner, but it really depends on the area. It is also unclear whether there really is still a regulation that states that hotels need a special certificate to accept foreign guests, or whether it is just that many hotels don't know how they should register foreign guests or consider it to be too much trouble. I have heard many people claim that it is now legal for any hotel to accept foreigners, but opinions are divided on this. Clarifications would be welcome.

FOARP said...

@Ji Xiang - I'm afraid I cannot lend any clarity to this. I've even heard it said that, officially speaking, certification or licensing of some kind is needed even for foreigners to live in a specific place - this at least was the situation back in 2003.

Police registration, and the need for a terminal of some kind to register foreign hotel guests with the police that many of the cheaper hotels don't have, or certification for foreigners to stay in a particular hotel, is the reason typically given for not allowing foreigners to stay in a particular hotel. I have no idea whether any of these are true - the reasoning changes from area to area. You can be in rural Yunnan and be put up in a place that charges a few dozen RMB without quibble, or in a second-tier city and find hotel after hotel turning you down - there doesn't seem to be any real logic to it.