The SCMP is a great newspaper, and every week it has a host of very good reads. However since early last year its Australia related pieces have become particularly noticeable for a level of condescension. It all boiled over in the SCMPs commentary on last years Bennelong bi-election which became as palsied fact free diatribe as has ever been passed as social commentary.
This weekend it is back again touting Chinese migration to Australia – as it has done a number of times this year – as being a wonderful thing, but not actually questioning what is in it for Australians, and it makes for some entertaining reading if you can get beyond the bouquet of smugness which pervades the entire piece. As with the Australian media there is a certain value in asking what the piece misses out in in terms of its own frame of reference, and posing the question of who is served best by this lacunae. And with this piece you could make a case that Chinese security services would find all the boxes ticked
HOW THE RISE OF CHINA’S MIDDLE CLASS MIGRANTS IS CHALLENGING AUSTRALIAN FEARS
• China’s new middle class has spawned a new breed of wealthier, better educated migrant, drawn to Australia for the lifestyle as much as the work
• This shift in migration is challenging Australia to reassess fears about the rising superpower in its neighbourhood
BY GIGI CHOY
17 NOV 2018
The lede sets the theme for the unwary. Australia’s fears need a bit of challenging and the Chinese middle class are just the people to provide it – a bit of triumphalism for the home audience with better educated and wealthier as an entrée and superpower as a main course – while nary a schmick of questioning about who is actually paying for the better education, where the money comes from (or how many Operation Fox Hunt targets have been sought out in Australia) and certainly nothing to suggest that China’s ‘superpower’ interests many not be identical to Australia’s interests at any level. But one assumes the disinterested reader will be whetting their appetite for an interesting piece about Australia, and the censor bureau can be sure that all the right messages are purveyed (with the wrong ones ignored)
Every time Bobby Wen takes a breath, he is reminded of why he and his mother left China for Australia.
The stifling pollution of Guangzhou, where Wen was born, had played havoc with his asthma – so with visions of clear blue skies and wide open spaces, his mother upped sticks and moved him to Melbourne when he was just 7 years old.
“The air in Guangzhou was really bad due to industrialisation and the moving of factories from Hong Kong after the opening up of China,” he recalls. “I remember being told we couldn’t drink the rain water because it was polluted and highly acidic.”
Now 22 and studying economics and international relations at the Australian National University in Canberra, Wen has never doubted his mother’s decision.
All lovely for Bobby, without for a second asking if the antisocial planning processes which prompt the Cantonese to look for other places to live may be getting exported, or if maybe the social minority management processes being visited on Uighur and Kazakh inhabitants of China’s Western regions could be exported (or imported) with it.
Similarly pleased with her new environment is Claire Yu, 26. For Yu, it was visions of a simple lifestyle and a work-life balance that in 2014 prompted her to leave Harbin for Adelaide, the wine capital of Australia thanks to its cool climate, altitude and changing seasons. Yu earned a Master’s degree in wine business at the University of Adelaide, which qualified her for a state-nominated skilled-migrant visa.
All good for Claire too, but there is a question – beyond whether Adelaide has a temperate climate and is at sea level – if we ask ourselves if we bring people in on student visas to train them up sufficiently to gain skilled migrant visas then wouldn’t there be a case for simply training up our own people? Or is importing people the name of the game – as surely as it is for the RBA, Treasury, Australia’s banks, the Real Estate industry, large retailers and house owners (as opposed to mortgagees or renters)…..
Her fellow Adelaide resident, Max Chi, 32, took a different route – his expertise in telecoms engineering meant he could obtain permanent residency and relocate his family from Beijing in just six months.
Wen, Yu and Chi’s personal stories differ, but they have something in common. They represent a shift in the patterns of Chinese migration to Australia that is having a profound effect on the country’s demographics, attitudes to immigration and even its deeply held notions of what it means to be Australian.
All good for Max too, and his family. What that second paragraph brings us toward, is about as close as the piece comes to acknowledging that more Australians are asking questions about why Australia has run immigration volumes at an average of more than 200 thousand people per annum over the last decade, nearly three times the longer term average of about 70 thousand per annum, why this has been so heavily concentrated on Chinese (and to a lesser extent Indian subcontinental) immigrants, and what the actual benefits are of running immigration that heavily, when Australia is essentially living off what a small number of people dig out of the ground and sell to China.
New research shows there has been a marked change in the profile of Chinese migrants arriving in Australia. Rather than common stereotypes that paint Chinese migrants in one of two extremes – impoverished hopefuls in the land of plenty or ultra-rich property buyers pushing up prices for locals – the research shows the migrants of today are a product of China’s burgeoning “new middle class”.
The modern migrant is likely to be highly skilled, educated, and investment-focused, as likely to be drawn to the country for its clean air and lifestyle as anything else. Not only that, but higher levels of English and varied immigration schemes are helping them to settle in areas far beyond traditional ethnic Chinese enclaves in Sydney and Melbourne.
All good and well, but there could be a question about how far out of Sydney and Melbourne the Chinese community does actually get, particularly if we think about the fairly overt data showing migrants (particularly Chinese migrants) do tend to concentrate very heavily into Sydney and Melbourne and generally into select areas of those cities.
In a recent paper titled ‘Shifting dynamics of Chinese settlement in Australia: an urban geographic perspective’, human geographer Thomas Sigler and his fellow authors at the University of Queensland identify the year 2000 as a watershed in this great migration.
Before this, ethnic Chinese in Australia were typically economic migrants born outside mainland China, with many coming from Hong Kong and Taiwan.
OK, good observation to make. Hints at a bit of data with reference to the study, but provides no granularity with comparison of pre and post 2000 vis migrants from China, Hong Kong and Taiwan, or of difference between these in terms of links to the originating country after migrating to Australia – which is one of the areas of suspicion about Chinese immigrants to Australia currently – and in particular the degree to which newer migrants might have more reason to be concerned about Chinese state security services, or any accompanying change in the sources of wealth and the accrual processes they have used.
But Sigler and company say that since then, visa schemes designed to encourage foreign real estate investment as well as skilled worker and student migration have resulted in an influx of affluent and educated mainland Chinese.
More than half of all mainland-China-born immigrants in Australia moved there between 2006 and 2015, according to scholars Dallas Rogers and Ilan Wiesel, and by 2016, mainland Chinese living in Australia accounted for 2.1 per cent of the country’s population.
OK questions start about here, and mainly for people in Australia who have determined the lay of the land. For starters is the increased number of migrants from mainland China, since 2000 by design of Australian policymakers? Has it been recognised by them, along with some recognition and/or measurement of the implications – for example comparing respect for property rights or the laws of Australia and difference therein between Chinese from Hong Kong or Taiwan a generation ago and from mainland China over the last two decades?
Not only are Chinese migrants growing in number – they are spreading farther into the country.
While Sydney and Melbourne are still home to the lion’s share of mainland China-born migrants, there have been dramatic increases in the numbers of Chinese settlers in medium-sized capital cities such as Adelaide and Perth.
We can assume it may look thus in China but does increased Chinese migration to Perth and Adelaide really means they are ‘spreading further into the country’?
Part of the reason for this is that the rise of China’s middle class has brought about higher levels of education – and, in particular, English-language ability.
“The idea is as people’s English proficiency increases they’re more likely to assimilate into the population at large. This means they’re more likely to survive outside the dense, Chinese-inhabited areas of Sydney and Melbourne,” Sigler explains.
OK, no real issues there. Though there is a question about how true their posited phenomena actually is.
However, there is a curveball to his research. While scholars had projected this influx of migrants would lead to more multicultural neighbourhoods, Sigler and his colleagues found that on the contrary, Chinese migrants were still likely to live in ethnic enclaves – it was just that these enclaves were more numerous and more spread out, something Sigler, a senior lecturer at the University of Queensland, says reflects the segmented assimilation theory.
OK, so they aren’t really moving too far outside the dense Chinese inhabited areas of anywhere.
This picture of migration is reflected in the experience of Wen – the student who left behind the pollution of Guangzhou as a child. He and his mother first moved to Camberwell, a white-dominated neighbourhood in Melbourne, but he has since moved to Dickson, the “Chinatown of Canberra”.
“Compared to other neighbourhoods in Canberra, it’s a bit more bustling with restaurants and shops,” Wen says. “Like many overseas Chinese areas, it’s quite Cantonese dominated and allows me to easily buy siu yuk [crispy roast pork belly] and roast duck on days I don’t feel like cooking.”
So Wen has gone from white dominated to Chinese dominated in pursuit reduced cooking. Sounds like a lot of students everywhere. I once rented a place near the Lord Newry in North Fitzroy on the basis of their counter meals
WHAT’S THE DRAW?
Helping to drive this great migration is Australia’s reputation as a stable democracy with solid infrastructure and a respected education system. Its proximity to China also appeals.
“The education, medical and even social system is more advanced in Australia. This will be beneficial for our next generation,” says Jerry Chen, 27, a Chinese immigrant who earned a Masters of Commerce degree at the University of Sydney. He and his wife plan to help their parents move to Australia so they can enjoy a better – and healthier – life.
As Barry Li, the author of New Chinese: How They Are Changing Australia, puts it, “Compared with other top liveable cities in the world, Australian cities have the best policies and multicultural environment for new migrants.”
OK, I can buy this as being the draw. However it does give rise to the implications – and we note that from Dastayari to Robb and beyond we have now entered a world where Chinese influence on Australia’s is starting to generate its own questions, including whether it is beneficial, as well as asking if Australian politicians now need to consider Chinese ‘voting blocks’ where Chinese Australian voters take their cues from China.
Then there is the question about the parents. One can understand these guys would like to bring their parents, but who is paying for the health care of the parents? Is that the Australian taxpayer? I dare say Australia does have the ‘best’ multicultural policies as far as migrants are concerned, but are those policies (which I agree have been very good for Australia of the past) still good for Australia of the future if we don’t actually have a socio economic narrative which requires new migrants (particularly in heavy volumes as we have seen in the last 15 years or so, and particularly if they are heavily from one race/culture)
However, there is another reason China’s middle class is attracted to Australia: government policy has shifted to embrace them.
Since the late 1990s, Canberra has made changes to immigration policy that offer foreign nationals “flexible citizenship” in return for investing in property and education.
One such policy is the student visa. In 2016-2017, education was Australia’s third largest export, generating a record A$28 billion (US$20 billion) in revenue. According to research by the University College London, Australia is set to overtake Britain as the second most popular destination for international students (the United States is No 1), and this is a trend the Australian government appears eager to encourage.
“Applying for a student visa to come to Australia was a lot easier than America, at least at the time I was applying,” recalls G.W., a Chinese immigrant in her 30s who moved to Sydney in 2007. “There were many exhibitions in relation to migrating to Australia back in Shanghai.”
The questions really kick in from here. Did Australian policy explicitly shift to embrace Chinese immigration? If so was there ever a discussion with Australian people about this, and where is the data about the implications and the framework about making it happen? Have Box Hill and Chatswood and Glen Waverly become ethnic enclaves by design? Would it have made any sense to encourage Australians to invest in real estate and education? (or would that have been too much hard policy work and have smacked of socialism?)
Were Australians ever told that they were now offering ‘flexible citizenship’? or that their education and real estate policies were now being gamed to produce an immigration outcome? Has there ever been a costing of the implications of this put to the Australian people? Has Australia’s rise to third in the education export market been accompanied by a better and cheaper education product being made available to Australians? And does Australia’s economy need better education if all Australia is going to do is dig things out of the ground or grow them on top, and is getting out of complex services, technology, and manufactures?
Would the Australian government or either side of mainstream politics, in the lead up to the next election, care to comment on what the benefits to Australia have actually been of Australia’s rise as an education provider? If the education sector is being openly run as a loss leader to drive immigration, and it is Australia’s third largest export, then shouldn’t Australia be looking at exports which aren’t directed so overtly to increasing the population for an unspecified reason? If we can have many exhibitions in places like Shanghai then couldn’t we have some exhibitions in Australia for Australians to share in?
Students from China now make up the largest portion of Australia’s foreign student intake. As of June 30 this year, almost a quarter (23.1 per cent) of the 486,934 student visa holders in Australia were Chinese nationals.
What are the risks for Australia’s university sector in having this degree of concentration of a market which can be turned on or off by the Chinese government according to its perceptions of Australian political or media content – particularly in relation to anything relating to China – like the occupation of islands in the south China Sea or the treatment of Uighurs and Kazakhs in western China? Are there implications for freedom of expression on Australian university campuses?
Australia also attracts capital from foreign investors through programmes like the “golden ticket” Significant Investor Visa (SIV).
The SIV is open to all nationalities but is targeted at Chinese investors who commit A$5 million in “complying investments” to qualify for a four-year visa that can be converted to permanent residency. Nearly 90 per cent of SIVs for the top source countries were granted to Chinese nationals.
So 90% of the special investor visas came from China – a nation openly acknowledged as being amongst the most corrupt on the planet. Could anyone on either side of Australian politics or the regulatory authorities tell us if there has ever been a single application for an SIV rejected because an Australian regulatory authority questioned the provenance of the funds being used to apply for the visa or the veracity of the process by which it was acquired in China? Could anyone tell us if anyone in Australia actually looks at how the wealth used to fund SIV applications has been accumulated?
From here, there is a very serious question of what actually is a ‘complying investment’? who determined what makes up a complying investment and what benefit does that compliance actually provide for Australia’s economy or Australians? Do complying investments need to employ Australians? Are Australian banks, legal firms, accountants, brokers and real estate agents structuring ‘products’ to enable a ‘complying investment’ using funds which ultimately are borrowed from an Australian financial institution and backed by the Australian taxpayer and deliver virtually no benefit to anyone in Australia apart from possibly a sales commission to an Australian broker or real estate agent?
Meanwhile, according to Sigler and company’s study, the decision by the South Australian government to embrace migrants as a solution to its labour and skills shortage led to a rapid increase of migrants from mainland China between 2003 and 2008.
So let me get this right. South Australia had a labour and skills shortage between 2003 and 2008 and this enabled a ramp up of Chinese immigration to Australia? Did South Australia put this in writing to the Commonwealth government (which controls immigration) and is the documentation still available for public discussion? Does South Australia still have a skills and labour shortage and is this this the reason behind the continued high levels of immigration into Australia since about 2006? Have any other Australian states ever put such sentiments to the commonwealth government and what policy positions and response has the commonwealth government ever looked at with regard to the issue? Now that NSW and Victoria are openly questioning the wisdom of Australia’s current immigration volumes, can we expect immigration volumes to be returned to the 75k average which covered the 106 years to 2006?
The seemingly ever-growing pool of affluent, educated workers who have ambitions beyond China’s borders has given birth to a variety of education, immigration and real estate agencies set up to help them move freely around the world.
“Brokerage assemblies” now help migrants to “navigate Australia’s housing, visa and university sectors … buy foreign houses and get student visas in ways that meet Australia’s foreign investment and international student rules,” says Dallas Rogers, director of the Master of Urbanism programme at the University of Sydney.
Brokerage platforms such as Juwai and ACProperty market international properties to help developers and agents reach Chinese buyers. Juwai publishes summaries on a range of education, migration and investment issues, aimed at helping Chinese to move themselves – and their capital – abroad.
So China now has a body of capital and the people holding that capital looking for the capacity to game the regulatory settings of Australia which has now established mechanisms to do so? What are their Australian agents? – are these banks, accountants, real estate agents, lawyers? Have Australia’s immigration and regulatory bodies ever looked at the phenomena of ‘Brokerage Assemblies’ and asked what the implications of these are for the integrity of Australia’s immigration, investment, education and resource allocation frameworks are? Do the ‘Brokerage Assemblies’ ensure veracity of wealth and economic commitment to Australia from Chinese applicants to come here, or do the ‘Brokerage Assemblies’ simply deliver the outcome desired for a fee paid to them (and if so is that in Australia’s interest?)
Then of course there is the not unreasonable question of why Chinese capital is looking to move abroad and whether this is purely a positive phenomena for the destination this capital moves to?
But along with the business opportunities, China’s new breed of mobile migrant worker has also spawned anxiety in some quarters – an anxiety that often plays out in newspaper articles in which the Chinese community is made the bogeyman for Australia’s housing affordability crisis.
Are Chinese immigrants being made the bogeyman or is it more that they are seen as a bogeyman in concert with other bogeymen – banks, real estate agents, property developers, in pushing the price of Australian housing well beyond affordable for many (particularly younger) ordinary Australians?
More pertinently, is 2.1% of the Australian population – the figure provided in this piece – which originates from mainland China, sufficient to influence house prices, particularly if they do tend to live in dense ethnic enclaves. Do they affect real estate prices in those dense ethnic enclaves? Is this to the benefit of Australians? Do they affect the markets for education, services, or healthcare services and infrastructure?
That stereotype of the super-rich Chinese pushing up prices and keeping real estate out of the reach of “locals” is one that dies hard, even if as author Li notes, “The Crazy Rich Asians are a minority. Most Chinese migrants in Australia follow rules and live a diligent and peaceful life.”
Is the issue one of the super rich Chinese pushing up prices – although these do get prominent airtime – or more the sheer number of Chinese, and Indian, and wherever people turning up and buying Australian real estate, notably pointed out intermittently in youtube videos and press reports? The point about most Chinese turning up and leading quiet diligent lives may be perfectly true, but would that mean it not also true that these have an impact on housing asset prices and social infrastructure demand?
According to Ien Ang, a professor at the University of Western Sydney, Australian anxiety towards Chinese immigrants stems not only from the dramatic increase in numbers but also from China’s rise as a global power.
The sort of sloppy media representation that blames Chinese nationals for the housing crisis spills over to coverage of geopolitics. Reports of Beijing interfering in Canberra’s political affairs and of China overtaking the US as a superpower play into these anxieties.
“Fear has been ramped up on the one hand by media representation but on the other hand also by the real changes happening in the world,” Ang says.
Now we are getting acknowledgement of the ‘dramatic’ rise in Chinese immigrant numbers – and if it is dramatic then wouldn’t it certainly be having an effect on asset prices and demand for social infrastructure? And if it has been dramatic then should there have been some form of explanation for existing Australians about why a ‘dramatic’ increases was needed? From there wouldn’t the lack of explanation about the need for a ‘dramatic’ increase in Chinese immigration be the basis for concern about Chinese immigration and its impacts alone? If something is ‘dramatic’ shouldn’t there be some form of explanation somewhere along the line? If it is ‘dramatic’ then shouldn’t we be measuring and quantifying impacts?
If responding to the lack of explanation is somehow ‘sloppy’ then wouldn’t there be a case for looking at some of China’s actions in the day and age? (or is simply looking at China with anything less than rose coloured glasses ‘sloppy’?) Do Chinese activities in the South China Sea pose any risk at all for Australia? ……..would it be ‘sloppy’ to say ‘none at all’ or ‘well yes possibly there are some’? If we accept reports that China is detaining very significant numbers of Uighur and Kazakh people in Western china and keeping them under intense video surveillance then shouldn’t this be somehow factored into how we view the Chinese immigration – seeing as it is ‘dramatic’ – into Australia? What do those Chinese immigrants have to say about the detention of Uighurs and Kazakhs – and Tibetans – in China? Should we ask about the environmental degradation that this article posits as a driver of Chinese immigration to Australia, and ask if Chinese ownership of our economic assets runs the risk that they may treat Australia’s environment with less regard than they have treated their own? Is countenancing that risk ‘sloppy’?
One recent study found almost six in 10 Asian Australians had “experienced some measure of discrimination because of their culture, religion or appearance” when renting or buying a house.
It’s something that even Wen, as he compares Canberra’s pure air to the toxic smog of Guangzhou, has cause to reflect on. His first experience of racism was while selling bus tickets to fund his studies.
He had offered to help an elderly white woman, but she ignored him and turned to his white colleague saying she wouldn’t be able to understand Wen’s English. When his colleague explained Wen could speak perfect English, she waved him away with a “no thanks”. “Never in my life had my worth and work been dismissed just based on my race and what I look like,” Wen says.
This is the ‘questioning Chinese immigration to Australia is racist’ cue, and it is a very feeble play of the cue. One wonders if those Asian Australians were to be questioned if they had ever experienced any form of discrimination in their home cultures, or if they think that people from those cultures might apply such discrimination to foreigners there? Are Chinese more or less capable of discriminating on the basis of race or culture than Caucasian Australians?
Maybe Wen should do an ‘Old Australian ladies’ 101 session – if it is not race there will always be something else to discriminate on – particularly for those selling bus tickets. My current understanding is that racism and discrimination take on far more overt forms in contemporary China.
But if Australia – or at least parts of it – is finding it hard to fully accept the growing number of Chinese migrants like Wen, Yu and Chi, then it is setting itself up for what Ang calls a “Catch-22”.
“Australia might be fearful of a rising China, but on the other hand, Australia also benefits enormously from economic linkages,” the professor says.
“The Chinese economy is hugely important for Australia and Australia is basically dependent on China for its economic prosperity.”
Given the symbiotic nature of this relationship – and the seemingly unstoppable growth of China’s middle class – it may be inevitable that, just as Chinese have learnt to live in Australia, Australians will have to learn to live with China.
Ahhh and the punchline is saved for last – if you don’t like it then there will be pain; Economic pain. The paragraph alone brings about the question of why Australia has tied itself to being an economic hostage of China, and whether it should be perpetuating that linkage or working to address it and diversity its export basis, its economy in general, and the Chinese demand for its tertiary education places inter alia. Is it a ‘Catch 22’? or does Australia still have the ability to determine the settings for its own people in its own economy using its own laws?
Do we assume that the Chinese middle class access to migration to Australia is unstoppable? And if we have to learn to live with China – what actually does that involve? Mass surveillance? A little bit of hypocrisy in looking at geopolitical claims on the South China Sea? Making sure our politicians don’t take up photo opportunities with the Dalai Lama? Looking the other way when corruption beneficiaries from China want to use the proceeds to purchase Australian social goods? Should we be accepting of a Chinese ‘voting block’ as a demographic in key electoral seats? Do we accept Chinese nationals buying baby powder off grocery store shelves in such quantities that Australian kids cannot get their needs addressed? And when we ‘live with China’ what does that actually imply about how we see or question China? Should we be allowing Chinese State owned Enterprises to buy Australian infrastructure?
Plenty of Australians should look at the SCMP piece and see it to think about the perceptions of Australia that underlay the mindset of the people who wrote it. Is that mindset trying to tell itself that Australia is Terra nullus? Is it time to wear the economic pain and wean Australia off this grotesque expectation of obeisance?