China Centre Tübingen (CCT)

Coming to stay? Local border politics and immigration in China

Border policy and border controls reflect the political order and identity of a country. At the border, it is decided who ‘belongs’, who is wanted and who could represent a ‘threat’. In a time of globalisation, however, nation states must renegotiate how they solve the apparent dilemma between open borders (for capital and goods) and safe borders (against international terrorism and illegal immigration). As elsewhere, the Chinese border regime is constantly renegotiating these challenges. For example, the handling of refugees from Myanmar and North Korea shows its ambivalent role within international refugee conventions. At the same time, the People's Republic is transitioning into a country that provides economic opportunity and is engaged in global competition for highly skilled workers, while also seeking to regulate the potential immigration of poor migrants from Southeast Asia. This ambivalence is reflected in a new immigration law (2013) which grants various local exemptions for certain immigrant groups. Taking the example of village communities on China’s border with Myanmar in the southwestern province of Yunnan, Franziska Plümmer shows how administrative management of cross-border commuters is sometimes delegated to the local level. There, local cadres find special solutions for the illegal immigration of Burmese workers, refugees and marriage migrants, which demonstrate how the implementation of the Chinese border regime actually impacts immigrants and how the local state strives to legalise its subjects.

Franziska Plümmer teaches in the Department of Chinese and Korean Studies at the University of Tübingen and was previously a visiting researcher at the German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), Institute for Asian Studies in Hamburg. Her teaching and research cover Chinese politics and foreign and security policy, with a particular focus on border management and cross-border migration in the context of regional transformations in Asia. She is co-author of "Norm Entrepreneurs as Drivers of Norm Dynamics" (Norm Dynamics in Multilateral Arms Control. Interests, Conflicts, and Justice, University of Georgia Press) and has recently presented papers on topics such as the securitisation of China’s border politics and the emergence of new river ports on the Mekong River Ports.