By Zander Rounds
The following article is an attempt to mediate some of misunderstandings about Africans among many of the Chinese people, probably to alleviate some of the tensions that have arisen as a result. The timing of this article is notable, as it was released back when the police in Guangzhou were beginning to crack down on foreigners.
—-Zander Rounds (Translator)
Africans are fond of living together; their number is not as many as imagined
There are 118,000 foreigners in Guangzhou, of which 16,000 are Africans. The crime rate of foreigners is not actually as high as city residents imagined… A few days ago, during an exclusive interview with Yangcheng Evening Paper, the Public Security of Exit-Entry Administrative Service Bureau of Guangzhou revealed the following information:
On November 24, this paper’s “Newsweek Magazine” released an in-depth, three section perspective on “Africans in Guangzhou”, attracting a high level of attention from the government’s Functions Bureau. Public Security of Exit-Entry Administrative Service Bureau of Guangzhou captain Liu Hongbin specifically arranged for an exclusive interview with journalists from Yangcheng Evening Paper, hoping to provide the public with an authoritative account of the exit-entry and living situation of foreign nationals in Guangzhou.
1. The crime-rate of foreigners is not actually that high
The question of the number of Africans in China has always been hotly contested in the streets, with rumors that Guangzhou has anywhere between 300,000 and 500,000 Africans. These numbers have already been used as headlines by a portion of the media.
The Public Security of Exit-Entry Administrative Service Bureau of Guangzhou revealed that, according to the October 25 statistics, the number of foreign nationals in Guangzhou is actually 118,000. Of these, 47,000 are long-term residents, staying for more than half a year (including almost 10,000 exchange students) – including more than 4,000 from Africa – and 71,000 temporary residents. People from Europe, the United States, Japan and South Korea make up the majority of foreign nationals.
Liu Hongbin emphasized that the number of people and the number of person-visits are two distinct concepts. In 2013, Guangzhou’s port of entry and exit had 540,000 “person-visits” from African countries. This number includes many visits by the same individuals repeatedly entering and exiting the country. Because some people have visas that only allow them to stop over for relatively short periods of time, they must frequently cross the border. There are also those that need to travel back and forth many times for work.
In addition, the crime-rate of foreigners is not actually as high as everyone imagines it to be. The 2013 statistics reveal that the crime rate of foreigners in Guangzhou is about 1.65%.
According to our understanding, currently foreigners in Guangzhou can go to nearby local police stations, community police offices, service stations, and mobile population service centers to submit their residence registration. In order to conveniently collect foreigners’ residence registration information, the relevant department also developed a “Credentials Channel” [证件通] information collection facility. Through the digitization of information collection and the automation of data inputting, the accuracy rate of information collection has reached 100 percent. Based on this, the relevant department thinks that the figure for the number of Africans living in Guangzhou is trustworthy.
2. “Issues of Africans in Guangzhou are made to be bigger than they actually are”
Why do Africans treasure Guangzhou? This, in Liu Hongbin’s analysis, is due to several factors.
From a historical perspective, Guangzhou has been a business capital for a millennium and is the oldest treaty port of foreigners. As such, the city has a haina baichuan [“all rivers run to the sea”] tradition. Additionally, today, the politics, economics, climate, customs and characteristics of the city lead Africans to select China and to stay in Guangzhou.
Why is it that while the statistics reveal that the number of foreigners from Africa is much less than the number of those from Europe, the US, Japan and Korea, city residents still feel like the number of Africans in Guangzhou is especially high? Liu Hongbin thinks that the African issues are magnified primarily due to three reasons: The first is that some peoples’ discrimination and prejudice leads to the undue exaggeration of illegal and criminal activities of African people. The second is that Guangzhou’s favorable trading environment and cheaply priced small-goods market is incredibly suited to African people’s needs; they are attracted to and converge on the small-goods market areas in relatively dense numbers. The third is that the young laborers from African countries tend to live together in close proximity in Guangzhou’s city center and enjoy outdoor activities. In comparison, other foreign nations do not live together on such a large scale.
According to our understanding, the number of foreign nationals from Arabic countries legally residing in Guangzhou is also more than 10,000. Although they do not live together to such a large extent, they also often appear in Guangzhou’s Xiaobei–Dengfeng Yidai business area to engage in trading activities. On Tangjing Street, there are also a relatively large number of Koreans.
3. Strengthen Guangzhou’s “Comprehensive Policing of Foreigner Affairs [全警涉外]” training
Several police offices from Public Security of Exit-Entry Administrative Service Bureau of Guangzhou have witnessed the dramatic increase of foreigners from few to many. At the beginning of the Reform and Opening period, only a small number of foreigners came to Guangzhou. Nowadays, Guangzhou already has more than 1,000 communities and villages with foreign residents. In those days, when urgent issues arose, teachers from local colleges had to be called in to translate. Now a series of long-term, effective mechanisms have already been established, in the form of government purchased services, cooperative agreements with Guangdong University of Foreign Studies and other work units, the construction of more than ten types of translation platforms and the inclusion of these expenditures in the government budget. Back then, the “Foreigner Civil Police [外管民警]” still sent out special certificates. By now this type of certification has been canceled and replaced with “Comprehensive Policing of Foreigner Affairs”, which includes the establishment of a four-level foreigner management mechanism, made up of the city bureau, differentiated bureaus, local police stations and community policing offices.
As we understand it, this year the Public Security of Exit-Entry Administrative Service Bureau of Guangzhou held ten basic police officer training sessions of more than 400 people, who over a three-day period, were provided instruction on simple, practical and relevant English, as well as the general knowledge on how to handle incidents concerning foreigners.
As for the issue of “three illegals” (enter illegally, reside illegally and work illegally) that concerns many city residents, the Public Security Bureau has internally established four ranks: Guangzhou Foreigner Comprehensive Law Enforcement Team, Volunteer Interpretation Service Team, Investigation of “Three Illegals” Specialized Team and Basic Level Managing Foreigner Occupational Team. Since 2008, Guangzhou has set up 75 “Management of Foreigner Service Workstations” in residential areas and streets occupied by more than 2,000 foreigners.
4. Issues of immigration bring opportunities and challenges
The superior trading environment has made Guangzhou the city most cherished and visited by Africans. Consequently, Guangzhou has also become the first city where the “three illegals” has become an issue and where there are the most conflicts.
The Ministry of Public Security of Guangzhou recently uncovered a legal case: some university, as a way to make money, applied for exchange student residence permits on behalf of individuals from several African, Southwest Asian and other countries, with the understanding that the foreign residence just needed to pay and didn’t need to attend classes. This type of illegal behavior also makes it more difficult to crack down on the “three illegals” issue.
While migrants undoubtedly bring to a city a multitude of cultures, business opportunities, tourist revenue and a portion of the high skilled talent to a city, at the same time they instigate many social issues, like organized crime, narcotic trafficking, illegal immigration and so on. According to a Chinese News Service report, as early as 2002, the United States’ immigrant population reached 56 million, equivalent to 20% of the total population. In 2014, the number of illegal immigrants to the US reached 11.2 million. As for this, Liu Hongbin thinks that inequalities in economic development are the primary cause of the mobile population phenomenon; as such, issues around Africans congregating in Guangzhou could very well persist long-term.
There are various standards used to judge the degree of globalization of city’s foreign resident population, including 5%, 8%, 15% and 20%. Liu Hongbin says that even based on the lowest 5% calculation, cities of ten million can have 500,000 foreign residents; the number of long term and temporary foreign nationals residing in Guangzhou however is still no more than 118,000. According to these standards, Guangzhou is still far from being considered a globalized metropolis and still is exploring the road of managing its foreign residence.