Written by Isaac Medina.

Are the US and China vying for the same international demographic? According to New York University’s Melissa Lefkowitz, the Chinese government is in the process of drafting new migratory regulations which would allow applicants in the technology industry to settle in China permanently: “[a]n expert privy to the [Ministry of Public Security’s] recent activities […] has said that the draft regulation will target immigrants in the technology field who have lived in China for ten consecutive years.” This development comes just four months since the new migration regulations, the Entry-Exit Administration Law (Chujing Rujing Guanli Fa), officially went into effect. For a nation that has not historically been welcoming to immigrants, the draft law definitely signals a significant change in attitude. Interestingly, in that same month, the White House released a report in support of a draft Senate immigration bill that would ease green card requirements for “those who earn advanced degrees in science, technology, engineering, and math.” Highly skilled workers, the report argues, will help mend America’s wobbly economy.

Unlike America’s draft bill, however, China’s draft entails more than just economic advantages for the government. At the recent Central Committee’s Third Plenum, Chinese President Xi Jinping was given a mandate to establish a State Security Committee (Guojia Anquan Weiyuanhui), which experts believe will focus more on internal security than foreign policy and national defense. Under this new framework, the kind of security threats that internet movements pose for the regime should be among the Committee’s top priorities. The 2009 Urumqi riots and the botched Jasmine Revolution, for instance, were both organized through now-blocked social media engines like Facebook. It is therefore unsurprising that the Chinese government has a vested interest in obtaining the best and brightest IT and technology specialists while it seeks to strengthen its domestic security apparatus.

China is decidedly no stranger to cyberspace. On the contrary, Beijing is very much invested in perfecting the relatively new art of cyberwarfare, an increasingly concerning area of contention between the US and China. Last year’s revelation that the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had stolen enormous amounts of data from various US organizations is a testament to Beijing’s involvement in offensive cybernetic activities, as are the cyberattacks conducted earlier this year against The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post. A recent report by the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission confirms that these activities have continued since their initial exposure in February. Perhaps the US immigration initiative will help curb the Chinese cyberwarfare threat in addition to contributing to economic recovery.

But aside from cyberwarriors, the Chinese government also employs an estimated 280,000 “internet commentators” (wangluo pinglunyuan) commonly called “the 50 Cent Party” (Wu Mao Dang). These government employees allegedly get paid half a yuan for every post they write that portrays the Party in a positive light. Chinese netizens are commonly used as a barometer for Chinese public opinion, being one of the few outlets for the population’s grievances. The importance of the Chinese blogosphere was highlighted in 2011 when former Premier Wen Jiabao’s famously held a dialogue with netizens in an attempt to assuage chronic popular discontent with various social problems. The activities of the 50 Cent Party work alongside the Chinese government’s Golden Shield Project (Jin Dun Gongcheng), better known in the West as the Great Firewall of China. There was recent speculation that China’s internet restrictions could be relaxed within the new Shanghai Free Trade Zone. However, Xinhua and Global Times have denied the rumors.

It is a tantalizing prospect that Beijing and Washington may be competing in such a non-traditional area. Nevertheless, as the two countries venture further into uncharted waters, it is unlikely that Beijing will get ahead in the immigration race anytime soon. Despite the draft law’s eased restrictions, “the majority of foreign long-term residents of China will not be considered eligible for permanent residency status.” At more than one billion citizens, perhaps the last thing the Chinese government wants is more people. Yet a rapidly dwindling workforce and exploding senior population may have prompted China to look for more IT specialists overseas. Whether for economic gain or cyberwarfare, only time will tell if the Middle Kingdom will truly become the new land of opportunity.

Isaac Medina holds an MIR from Peking University and was previously based at the National Bureau of Asian Research and the American Foreign Policy Council.

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