China’s involvement with refugees; myth or potential?

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This blog will discuss the involvement of the People’s Republic of China has regarding refugees. I became aware about this subject because of the research I had to do for an assignment for my minor International Relations and became intrigued. I always had regarded China as being focused only on their own country. However, after reading several articles, I found that they actually are becoming more and more interested in playing a part in the global involvement with refugees. Yes, I was as surprised as you are. There are more good things from China than just AliExpress or Wish. For one, they have a sustainable mindset as to solving problems. They want to look at the root cause of the problems, instead of just handling the consequences. Like, instead of putting a bucket under a dripping ceiling, looking where the leak is and fixing it.

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Just a quick question, what exactly are refugees?

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To answer this question, I will provide you with a quote from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.

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Refugees are persons fleeing armed conflict and persecution and crossing borders to find safety.

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Alright, but where does their mindset come from ?

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I am sorry, I cannot get around it, but there is a bit of history here. Bear with me, as this is actually very interesting! It started as what they called it “The Great Escape to Hong Kong”. You see, in the 1970’s, more than 700.000 people ‘escaped’ from China Mainland to Hong Kong (it being a British Colony). The government did not like this at all and used any means necessary to stop them from leaving. This resulted in situations the Chinese Government should not be proud of. (He, 2013) However, this guy called Deng Xiaoping was the one to say that maybe there was another way to solve this problem. 

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Four “Freedom Swimmers” are led away by police for questioning at Tai Po Kau in May 1971. The four were part of a mass exodus over more than 20 years. Photo: Chu Ming-hoi

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He blamed the high number of people wanting to leave to the economic gap (between China Mainland and Hong Kong). He even presented the solution: introducing special economic zones and boost up the economy and make the gap smaller. This was a success, as the amount of people leaving became smaller and smaller. (Liu, 2010) As I said before, the Chinese want to look at the root cause of the problem, and this event shows this mentality.

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This history lesson was nice, but what did they actually do?

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I know, you want to hear figures. Well, I even have those. Did you know that China was one of the first Asian countries to become a party to the Refugee Convention in 1951 and its Protocol in 1967? Moreover, in between the time of 1978 to 1982, The People’s Republic of China has admitted and locally settled over 250.000 refugees from Vietnam. (Song, 2018)

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The Chinese law is a bit complicated and the UNHCR has not much power over it. For those who do not know, the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees), also known as the UN Refugee Agency, is:

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A global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.

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However, they did include a bit in their laws about refugees. First off, in Article 32 of the 1982 Chinese Constitution it states that when foreigners ask for asylum due to political reasons, the People’s Republic of China may grant asylum. In addition to this, in 2012, the Law on Exit and Entry Administration was introduced, and this stated that people who are identified as refugees can obtain temporary identity certificates and temporarily find their stay in China when they are in the determination process. However, generally speaking, domestic Chinese law does not say much about treating of refugees and what defines refugees. From a report on this matter by Song (2018), the author translated a letter from the Chinese Ministry of Public Security and there they defined what it meant to be a refugee. Within this description a lot of it corresponded with the 1967 Protocol of the Refugee Convention, however some of it was omitted. This is of course not an official acknowledged definition of refugees by the Chinese Government and you cannot find this in their Domestic Law. In all the laws they have, only two vaguely say something about refugees, and do not even define them. (Song, 2018)

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Okay, so they did some things, but I still want to hear numbers!

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Numbers? Oh, you want to talk money! Actually, China has made contributions to the UNHCR over the years since 1990. (Liang, 2009) Even more so, they have increased drastically over the years. In 2013, they have donated almost 1,5 million USD, which was an increase of more than 210% and even almost 500% increase when you compare it to 2011. (UNHCR, Government Contributions to UNHCR, 2014) That’s not even the end of it, as in 2016 they donated 2,808,971 USD (UNHCR, Contributions to UNHCR for the Budget Year 2016 (as at 30 September 2016) in US Dollars, 2016).

I can almost hear you thinking: ‘Wow, that is a lot of money!’ And of course, it is a lot of money. That is, when you forget for a second that China has the second largest economy in the world since 2010. (Barboza, 2010) Considering this, and comparing it to the United States or Japan, China is not doing very well. In 2016, the United States ranked first, Japan second and China? China ranked 39th. Therefore, it is safe to say that China’s contributions to UNHCR can still increase, but at least they are existing.

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What about that mindset? Any current examples worth mentioning?

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As if you read my mind, this is something I wanted to talk about as well! Remember Deng Xiaoping and his special economic zones? Well, they wanted to use this thinking and try to mediate between Myanmar and Bangladesh. During his visit, the Chinese Foreign Minister, offered a “three-phase” solution to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis. This three-phased plan would stabilize the situation and solve the issue. Phase one would achieving a ceasefire to ensure order and safety. Phase two would be about consultation on equality regarding the refugees and phase three would be more economic as it focusses on alleviating the poverty in the Rakhine State. (Zhou, 2017)

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Hamida, 22, (center) and her son Mohammed, aged one, wait to receive food aid along with hundreds of other Rohingya refugees, at Kutupalong Refugee Camp, in Bangladesh.  © UNHCR/Andrew McConnell

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Okay, so there is interest and involvement, but is there potential?

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In my opinion, yes there is potential. The mindset (and wealth) of the People’s Republic of China can help a lot in the crisis that is still happening globally. As I said, there already is the groundwork (increase in contribution, plans and changes in law) for China to become a great influence on the world, in this area anyway. But, don’t just take my word for it. Even the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi spoke the words: “[through] its many development projects, China can help to stabilize areas in conflict and address the root causes of displacement” (Tan, 2017).

The future will see if I am a fortune teller or just an optimist.

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Reference List


As reverences I used the following sources:

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Barboza, D. (2010, August 15). China Passes Japan as Second-Largest Economy. The New York Times.

He, H. (2013, January 13). Forgotten Stories of the Great Escape to Hong Kong. The South China Morning Post.

Liang, S. (2009). Guoji Nanmin Fa (International Refugee Law). Beijing: Intellectual Publishing House.

Liu, H. (2010, August 1). zhenjing zhongyang de ‘dataogang’ fengchao (The Great Escape to Hong Kong that shocked the Chinese Central Government). People’s Daily Online.

Song, L. (2018). China and the International Refugee Protection Regime: Past, Present, and Potentials.Oxford: Refugee Survey Quarterly.

Tan, V. (2017). China Can Play Key Role in Solving Refugee Crisis. Beijing: UNHCR Chief.

UNHCR. (2014). Government Contributions to UNHCR. Geneva: UNHCR.

UNHCR. (2016). Contributions to UNHCR for the Budget Year 2016 (as at 30 September 2016) in US Dollars.Geneva: UNHCR.

UNHCR. (2020). About Us. Retrieved from UNHCR UN Refugee Agency:

UNHCR. (2020). What is a refugee? Retrieved from UNHCR The UN Refugee Agency:

Zhou, L. (2017, November 19). China Lays Out Three-Point Plan to Ease Rohingya Crisis. The South China Morning Post.



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