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Quasi-citizenship and China and India’s diaspora population

Today we draw attention to two pieces of academic scholarship that partly fill the knowledge gap of the Chinese and Indian diaspora, the two largest diasporas worldwide. Els van Dongen of the Nanyang Technological University in Singapore refers to estimates of 60 million Chinese and 28 million Indians based on statistics from 2014-2015. In her article Behind the Ties that Bind: Diaspora-making and Nation-building in China and India in Historical Perspective, 1850s-2010s, van Dongen describes the Chinese and Indian attitudes towards their diaspora populations during Western imperialism (1850s to 1940s), the Cold War and decolonisation (1950s to 1970s), the period of economic reform (post-1970s), and lastly the era of ‘emotional citizenship’ (post-2000).

Two historical trends are worth emphasising. First, while a taboo traditionally existed on emigration in both China and India, both countries began to sign agreements with foreign powers regarding labour migration from the late 19th century onwards. Only then did China feel the need to enact certain pieces of legislation. As noted by a comparative study on nationality law in Asia, ‘the first modern Chinese law on nationality of 1909 was enacted by way of response to the Dutch argument that China had no legitimate claim to [jurisdiction over Chinese immigrants in the Dutch East Indies and their descendants] as it had not even a nationality law to which to refer’. Nevertheless, the period until the 1970s was characterised, according to van Dongen, by a disengagement by both China and India ‘from their extraterritorial populations because of broader global and regional economic and political restructuring’.

A turning point was reached in the 1970s following (economic) reforms in both China and India that led to a deeper engagement with the countries’ diasporas in both practice and discourse, particularly in the 1980s. This process was to be reinforced after 2000, when the concept of ‘emotional citizenship’ began to emphasise the diasporas’ symbolic belonging through common ethnic and cultural ties.

The second trend is that the nationality laws of both countries converged to some extent. While Chinese nationality law had always been based on ius sanguinis, India, following a wider trend in Asia in the second half of the twentieth century, began to incorporate various elements of a ius sanguinis model of citizenship where previously it had relied on ius soli. As a side note, this follows the global trend in recent decades of countries abolishing automatic ius soli or replacing it by more conditional forms of ius soli (in Africa in particular in the Commonwealth states). The Americas remain the notable exception, with 30 out of 35 countries still providing for automatic and unconditional ius soli.

Chun Luk, in a PhD thesis entitled Diaspora status and citizenship rights: A comparative-legal analysis of the quasi-citizenship schemes of China, India and Suriname, discusses the growing number of migrant sending countries that have created a privileged legal status for their diaspora. This intermediate status of quasi-citizenship ‘accords its holder with more rights than a non-citizen resident may have, while still not going as far as offering them the option of (dual) nationality’. Examining the cases of China and India, who both oppose the occurrence of dual nationality, Luk has analysed the Chinese ‘Green Card’ scheme and the Indian ‘Overseas Citizen of India Cardholder’ scheme. His study shows that many key citizenship rights, such as unrestricted entry and residence or access to employment, are granted to Chinese Green Card holders, while electoral rights and access to public offices remains reserved for Chinese nationals. A similar but more generous regime is offered under the Indian scheme, which makes Luk conclude that of his three case studies the Indian scheme ‘best approximates full or dual nationality as concerns the rights and duties for individuals’. The authors of a country report on Indian citizenship law have described Indian Overseas Citizenship along similar lines as an ‘active pursuit of policies aimed at the eventual goal of dual citizenship for people of Indian origin (or the Indian diaspora). Though aimed at the overall diaspora, these policies seem aimed at benefiting groups located in particular regions of the world, including North America and the United Kingdom, which are more affluent and better placed to aid political parties and policies of foreign investment’.

Author: Dr. Olivier Vonk

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