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EVFplus Gunter Schubert: Sovereignty and International Law in the PRC (2017-2020)

The EVFplus project was funded from 2017 to 2020.

Global Migration, Global Terrorism and International Law: Chinese Perceptions and Responses

 Decades of research on the rise of global politics have addressed the importance of international organizations and regimes, and the diminishing role of the nation state. However, categories of “territory, law, economy, security, autonomy and membership” (Sassen 2008) are still very much attached to the nation state while international law and organizations play an important, though often complementary, role in global politics. At the same time, global migration and global terrorism have become two of the most salient difficulties in contemporary world affairs, and every nation-state must find ways to respond to the challenge they pose. Consequently, national security has re-emerged at the top of the political agenda in many states world-wide. China is no exception to this, and neither are other countries in the East Asian region. In fact, China has started to debate and work on specific measures and policies to confront these challenges domestically, regionally and internationally.

Strictly speaking, there is no direct link between migration and terrorism, although this link is often politically constructed by governments in order to serve set purposes. But although migration per se does not lead to terrorism, and restricting migration certainly does not eradicate terrorism, recent terrorist activities across the world, including those conducted by refugees in Europe, have triggered debates in many countries on the adjustment of migration policies to contain terrorism. China follows these debates closely. Our research group will not only trace Chinese official and academic discourses on the links between migration, religious extremism and terrorism, but also corresponding discourses in the broader East Asian region, including Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong.


Research Questions and Methodology


Overall, we will focus this project on the following research questions:


  • What are the specific characteristics of Chinese migration policy against a background of rising flows of refugees and economic migrants coming to China? Have there been any recent changes to this policy, which has so far focused on the attraction of skilled labour and highly educated professionals among overseas Chinese and PRC citizens residing in foreign countries? What are the links between internal and international migration? Which factors most influence China’s (im-)migration policies? How does China’s migration management address mobility between China and other countries or entities in the region, most notably the two Koreas, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China’s Southeast Asian neighbours? What role do (national) identity and the perception of “the Other” play in China’s migration management, as well as in other East Asian countries?


  • To what extent is Chinese migration management informed by international law and norms? How much are China’s actions defined by a particular regional approach, be it in the SCO or OBOR framework? How are these issues discussed among Chinese scholars and government advisors?


  • What kind of strategy does China pursue in order to fight global terrorism both at home and abroad? How does it cooperate with other states on this issue? To what extent does it engage with codified international law and so-called global values in its response to global terrorism?


  • How do the Chinese approaches to fighting global terrorism and managing global migration differ from other approaches in East Asia (Japan, South Korea,) and the West (Europe)? What is the role and contribution of China and other East Asian countries in the formation of policy regimes tackling global migration and global terrorism? What role does sovereignty and “national interest” play in this context? What do China’s policies say about its self-perception as a “responsible stakeholder” in the existing, or newly rising, world order?


Initially, we are planning to hold two workshops which are structured around the two main research areas: global migration and global terrorism. We will then hold a joint conference in order to address the discourses that link these issues. The first workshop entitled “Migration Regimes in China and East Asia from the Perspective of Sovereignty and International Law” will compare China’s immigration policy regime with those of other East Asian states and entities (Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and Hong Kong). This workshop will be held in Berlin in October 2017. The second workshop addressing “China’s Approaches to Counterterrorism: global, regional, and local dimensions” will be held in February 2018, bringing together specialists on international law, migration and counterterrorism, experts on border management and border security, and scholars specializing in foreign and security policy in East Asia.



Bork-Hüffer, Tabea; Yuan, Yuan-Ihle (2014): The Management of Foreigners in China: Changes to the Migration Law and Regulations during the Late Hu­-Wen and Early Xi-­Li Eras and Their Potential Effects. In: International Journal of China Studies 58 (3), S. 571–597.

Gilles, Angelo (2015): The Social Construction of Guangzhou as a Translocal Trading Place. In: Journal of Current Chinese Affairs 44 (4), S. 17–47.

Liu, Guofu (2007): The Right to Leave and Return and Chinese Migration Law. Leiden, Boston: Martinus Nijhoff Publishers.

Pieke, Frank N. (2013): Immigrant China. In: Rosemary Foot (Hg.): China across the Divide. The Domestic and Global in Politics and Society. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sassen, Saskia (2008): Territory, Authority, Rights. From Medieval to Global Assemblages. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Online verfügbar unter http://gbv.eblib.com/patron/FullRecord.aspx?p=457903.

Sturgeon, Janet C. (2013): Cross-border Rubber Cultivation between China and Laos: Regionalization by Akha and Tai Rubber Farmers. In: Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography 34 (1), S. 70–85.

Thompson, Drew (2009): Border Burdens: China’s Response to the Myanmar Refugee Crisis. In: China Security 5 (3), S. 13–23.

[1] The ASEAN member states and China cooperate closely on border security issues, such as joint efforts to standardize border administration and coordinate border control, as by the Mekong River patrol that is staffed by China, Laos, Myanmar and Thailand.