Foreigners in Beijing are bracing for a clamp down on illegal workers in the Chinese capital, but the sweep could be aimed at journalists.
China's rapid economic growth has attracted people from all over the world. Some 120,000 foreigners currently live and work in Beijing alone, and many more visitors are there on tourist visas.
In order to stay in China for the longer term, foreigners require a visa and work permit. Upon entering the country they must register where they live and notify the local police within 24 hours.
Many foreigners, however, arrive in China on a simple and temporary tourist visa and work illegally. The authorities in Beijing have now started a campaign to rein in this practice.
The Beijing police on Tuesday announced on its microblogging website that it was "undertaking increased efforts to punish foreigners who come to Beijing illegally or who live and work in Beijing illegally." The police have called on residents of the capital to report suspicious foreigners and have installed a telephone hotline for them to do that. The campaign is expected to last at least 100 days.
Rape in broad daylight
The police sweep comes just days after a British citizen in Beijing allegedly tried to rape a young Chinese woman in broad daylight. The suspect was reportedly overpowered by pedestrians nearby and beaten up. The incident was filmed by witnesses and posted on the Internet. Millions of Chinese users, in turn, posted outraged commentaries.
Beijing's Sanlitun (Bar Street) is popular with foreigners
A spokesman for the police in Beijing said that the beefed up controls against foreigners had nothing to do with the attempted rape incident.
Illegal foreigners face deportation
The police also said that they would conduct more widespread controls especially in those neighborhoods where a lot of foreigners live. "Many foreigners know the laws and may find it strange to be randomly checked by the police, but it is necessary to improve their sense of right and wrong and ensure that they abide by Chinese laws," Lin Song, a spokesman for Beijing's immigration authority, told the Chinese English-language daily, the Global Times. Foreigners without valid documents face either fines or jail and possible deportation.
A US citizen living illegally in Beijing told the Global Times that he and many of his acquaintances only had tourist visas, but worked anyway. So far, none of them had been caught or punished, he said. He complained that it was difficult to get a work permit.
Many Internet users in China have welcomed the campaign against illegal foreigners. On the popular microblogging site, Sina Weibo, one female user wrote: "This was long overdue. For several years, the foreigners in Beijing have been getting worse and worse. Many of the thieves in Sanlitun are foreigners."
Sanlitun is popular nightlife district and many foreigners live there. Crimes committed by foreigners in the neighborhood, such as drug dealing and street fights, are a recurring issue.
Another Internet user writes: "Foreigners that come to Beijing are arrogant and despotic. Who does not agree? We are no longer in the emperor era." In reference to the alleged rape incident, he writes further: "I wholeheartedly admire the people who beat up the foreigner. I don't know if others would have had the courage to help the woman."
On Twitter, one female user thinks the police campaign could have something to do with foreign journalists: "The police, last week, visited four families in my building to check their residence permits. Three of them are journalists." Just a few days ago, the Chinese authorities deported a correspondent working for the Arab television station Al-Jazeera.
The police sweep against illegal foreigners in Beijing could soon find imitators elsewhere in China. The authorities in Chengdu, the capital of Sichuan province, have already announced plans to conduct a similar campaign.
Author: Christoph Ricking / gb
Editor: Anne Thomas