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September 1999, Volume 6, Number 9

China/Hong Kong

China is encouraging migration into Tibet, causing critics to charge that China is engaged in "cultural genocide," trying to eliminate Tibetan culture. The exiled Dalai Lama says that Chinese immigration means "The very survival of Tibetans as a distinct people is under constant threat." China annexed Tibet in 1951; today, five to 25 percent of the 2.4 million residents are estimated to be Han Chinese.

The rural factories that have sprouted since the late 1970s in China today account for a third of China's GDP and a third of its exports. Many development specialists conclude that local state corporatism, in which local officials rather than market forces lead rural development, has worked. Fiscal incentives persuaded local leaders to build factories and preserve large public sectors that provide secure incomes and benefits. From this perspective, "big bangs" or shock therapy for previously closed economies is not the best solution; gradualism in shifting to a market economy is better.

Hong Kong. Hong Kong's population rose to 6.8 million in June 1999, up two percent from one year earlier. The population growth is due to immigration: Hong Kong's fertility rate of one child for each woman is one of the lowest in the world. Unemployment has risen to six percent, near its record level of 6.3 percent. The government has established a Mandatory Provident Fund, an old-age savings program, which is scheduled to start operations in March 2000.

The major migration topic in Hong Kong continues to be the right of mainland Chinese to immigrate. In January 1999, Hong Kong's Court of Final Appeal upheld the right of an estimated 1.7 million mainland-born children with at least one Hong Kong parent to live in Hong Kong. In June 1999, China's National People's Congress overturned the ruling, restricting migration rights to about 200,000 mainland Chinese.

There is a daily quota of 150 one-way exit or emigration permits from China to Hong Kong, and mainlanders must prove that they are eligible for residence in Hong Kong before obtaining exit permits. Many mainland Chinese attempt to enter Hong Kong illegally, and then stay because, they argue, they have a right of permanent abode. However, if caught, Hong Kong deports them back to China. In July 1999, Hong Kong deported two mainland Chinese just before they were to go before a judge and plead to stay. Hong Kong leaders say that, illegal migrants must be deported immediately or "all mainlanders can enter Hong Kong to claim the right of abode before having their status verified."

The Hong Kong government has increased surveillance at border crossings in order to prevent entry of mainlanders suspected of intending to work illegally in Hong Kong. Any mainlander who fails to convince officers that their visit is genuine will be returned even if they hold a valid two-way permit. A total of 1,504 mainland visitors were prosecuted for taking up unapproved employment in the first six months of 1999.

Cambodia. Cambodia is a popular transit point for smuggling illegal immigrants from mainland China to Hong Kong, in part due to general lawlessness, inadequate police and few immigration inspectors. Illegal immigrants pay $1,000 to $3,000 each to be smuggled into Cambodia, and then continue to Hong Kong and Europe and the United States. In mid-August, police conducted a crackdown on smuggling rings and arrested 225 Chinese.


Cliff Buddle and Magdalen Chow, "Mainlanders sent back by immigration while awaiting result of legal aid application," South China Morning Post, August 19, 1999. Oi, Jean C. 1999. Rural China Takes Off: Institutional Foundations of Economic Reform. Berkeley. University of California Press. Clifford Lo, "Mainlanders trying to work illegally face entry refusal," South China Morning Post, August 5, 1999. "Police nab 225 Chinese illegal immigrants in Cambodia," Deutsche Presse-Agentur, August 20, 1999.