Hello all, and welcome to our live discussion with Asia correspondent Mark MacKinnon.
Good morning to that side of the world..
. It's warm and unusually clear night here in Beijing.
Good evening to you, Mark. Thanks for joining us today. As part of The Globe's Immigrant Answer series, you wrote this week about the changing image of Canada in China, and the changing trends in global immigration.
Your stories spurred no shortage of discussion and interest from readers, and we've got some questions from them. Here's our first, from John Lombard:
Yes, I read the back-and-forth online. I think the entire Globe series on immigration
has generated some very heated, but important, discussions.
To Mr. Lombard -
Thanks for the question.
There are, of course, plenty of opportunities for Canadians in China (as I believe you yourself know well), which is what you’d expect from a massive country with one of the fastest rates of economic growth anywhere. The number of Canadians I’ve met here doing banking, high-tech or teaching here – to name just three professions I’ve encountered repeatedly – is far higher than had been my perception before moving to China.
There’s an argument to be made that with Europe in trouble and growth in North American still sluggish, China is as good a place to be as any these days, particularly if you speak some Chinese.
But while the doors are still open, we’re starting to see a few signs now that they might not always be. A decade ago, foreign firms operating in China often had foreign managers, as did some Chinese companies who wanted to do business with foreigners. That’s much less common these days, as China’s own high-end labour pool continues to grow and companies cut back on expatriate staff who often demanded better salaries and benefits than Chinese doing the same jobs.
As in Canada, we’re also seeing the stirrings of anti-foreigner resentment, with police in Beijing announcing this week that they’re launching a 100-day campaign to crack down on foreigners working illegally in the capital. As one of the Chinese papers editorialized, this is not a problem China has had to deal with before.
Thanks Mark - that's quite interesting about the crackdown on foreigners working illegally. What's your sense on what's spurring that move to take harsher measures against illegal workers?
Hmmm. The real trigger seems to have been a terrible incident here in Beijing (that was caught on video) in which a British man tried to sexually assault a Chinese woman in public, sparking a street brawl.
That incident sparked off a debate online about the kind of foreigners living in Beijing, and what they were doing here.
But campaign started by the Beijing government - which we haven't really seen enforced yet since it was only announced this week - is specifically targeted at people who are overstaying their visas, or (for instance) entering the country as tourists and then taking jobs
The big picture is that the economy feels like its cooling here too, and people are starting to feel the pinch of rising prices and declining opportunities.
Foreigners get blamed in such times. Around the world.
Our next question comes from Robert W, who talks about moves by the Chinese government to bring people of Chinese descent living abroad back to China:
I agree with you that the “Thousand Talents” program has many of the hallmarks (and the name) of a classic Communist Party campaign. And it is, in the sense that it’s being directed by the Organization Department, a secretive and very powerful organ of the Party that also selects which cadres are headed for higher office.
That said, it’s a program that addresses one of China’s biggest problems – the outflow of top talent to the West – and that has been very successful in its first three years, luring home 2,100 scholars with the promise of well-paying jobs, plus research money (and a generous “moving allowance”) if they move back to China.
I didn’t get into this in the article I wrote last week because of space constraints, but getting top brains to come back to China is in some ways the easy part. The next is giving them freedom to think, invent and create. Many returned scholars have complained about the limits on academic (and Internet) freedom since their return, not to mention a very corrupt system where connections and bribe-paying often win out over qualifications.
These are many of the same reasons China was losing its top talents in the first place. It’ll be interesting to see how many of the new returnees stay and spend the rest of their career in China.
(But yes, the Confucius Institutes in Canada and elsewhere - which are funded by the Chinese government - does offer summer programs to China. I'm told targeted academics can also get free reconnaissance trips "home" to China to look at work options...)
Sorry, that last burst was still in reply to Robert... next up - a stab at answering Bernie's question.
Bernie: that’s a tough one. Many of the Chinese I’ve spoken to on this side of the Pacific about immigration issues say they want to move to Canada precisely because there are large communities of Chinese already living in places like Vancouver and Toronto. Often, that’s the main reason they’re considering Canada ahead of the United States.
The truth is that they often don’t feel ready to “assimilate” into mainstream Canada. They feel ready to make the big leap and try living somewhere else only because they feel they can retain their culture when they get there.
(As an aside, do we want all immigrants to assimilate? I rather like walking around Canadian cities precisely because they’re a collection of communities living side-by-side… how does that make our culture weak?)
The Canadian experience, so far, seems to show that the assimilation does eventually happen, but with the next generation - the kids born and schooled in Canada.
Hi Julian, nice to hear from you. It's easier for me, as someone living in Asia, to see how those Asian-Canadians are changing society here. I know a lot of Chinese-Canadians (as well as Chinese who have spent significant amounts of time in Canada) who are now here in China. What I think the time in Canada did for them was change their expectations of China's government and society.
Having lived and worked (or just as often, studied) for some time in a country with fair legal system and an elected government of public servants, they come home and ask questions about why China has neither. I think that will be one of the greatest and quietest long-term contributions of Canada's education system on Chinese society.
To pick an example I know well, I've met Chinese journalists who studied journalism in Canada. They're back here now, and working for the state-controlled media in most instances. But perhaps unlike many of their colleagues, they're very aware of the restraints being placed on them and they spend much of their time questioning the necessity for such censorship and quietly pushing against it from within the system.
Dear Mr. Muckler - I think it's terrible the Senators fired you just after you built a genuine Stanley Cup contender. As for Canadian trade with China - I think the main impediment in recent years was chilly relations between Ottawa and Beijing. With the Lai Changxing matter resolved in a way that the Chinese government is satisfied with, and with Stephen Harper having pushed human-rights concerns to the side in order to focus on trade, I think most Canadians doing business here in China find opportunities to be as good as ever - with the usual caveats about endemic corruption and the lack of the rule of law.
Thanks for the feedback, Raman. Mark, to Raman's point, what's your sense of Canada's image to prospective emigrants in China's neighbouring countries?
Hi Raman - I think I should point out here that immigration to Canada is still hotly desired by a large amount of Chinese. For the Embassy in Beijing and High Commission in Hong Kong, the main task isn't recruitment, it's filtering through the piles of applications from would-be immigrants, trying to figure out who has a legitimate case, and who can contribute.
The people I spoke to for my article were only a snapshot of some of the people Canada wants most - young professionals, some of them with degrees from Canadian universities. For them, it wasn't so much that they disliked Canada or felt they couldn't live well.
What had changed for them was it was no longer obvious that they could do a LOT better in Canada. And without that, why not live at home, among your own family, friends, culture, etc.
There was a comment on the feedback page that I thought was worth raising here: "I would like to see Mark address the generally negative reaction to his recent story "Why some Chinese immigrants feel they can't make money in Canada."
The most popular comment on the story said:
"The implicit message here seems to be that Canada needs to change to accommodate the high income and lifestyle expectations of immigrants. That's just ridiculous."
I would agree.
My question is: How did it somehow become Canada's fault when immigrants are unhappy they can't come in and earn a high salary right off the bat?
Why do we need people who are going to just flit back and forth between Canada and China and not contribute anything to Canadian society?
That was from BrianHK, I think
Honestly, I wasn’t surprised by the reaction. But the goal of my articles (and much of this series) was to probe into what Canada would have to do in order to attract these type of top-end immigrants, people that our economy will increasingly need.
I wasn’t arguing that we could or should change our society to make all of them happy, just pointing out how some well-educated potential immigrants felt about Canada.
These articles were designed to be conversation-starters, and I’d argue that they’ve done at least that.
They certainly have! We've seen a tremendous amount of feedback on the series, which indicates this is an issue that a lot of Canadians (and would-be Canadians) are thinking about.
Thanks very much for your time and insights, Mark.
Thanks all. It's nearly 10 pm here, so time to head home, ready to show my passport and valid working visa to the police...