In the 1930s and 40s, America turned its back on Jewish refugees. Otto Frank, the father of perhaps the most famous Jewish victim of the Holocaust Anne Frank, applied for American visas to get his family to safety, but the family, and thousands of others, were denied, left to be crushed under a wave of Nazi oppression.
Perhaps Mr. Frank should have applied for Chinese visas.
While European countries and America closed their doors to those asking for help, a few brave Chinese foreign ministers went out of their way to rescue as many refugees as they could and put them on boats to Shanghai.
Ho Feng-Shan was the consul general of China in Vienna during that tumultuous time. Sometimes called “China’s Schindler,” from 1938-1940 he saved thousands of Jewish lives by issuing them visas for Shanghai. Shanghai accepted over 20,000 Jewish refugees during the WWII era.
The similarities between the refugee crisis of WWII and the Syrian refugee crisis of today cannot be ignored. But while Europe and America openly debate why and how they should accept the refugees or not, China has remained shockingly silent on the matter.
China is a vast land with a growing economy but is facing several demographic issues. With an aging population and a dwindling workforce, accepting refugees would make good economic, if not moral, sense.
Even though China has already announced plans to amend the one-child policy into a two-child policy, it will take decades to see any improvement. Economists predict that China’s workforce will diminish sharply by 2030, a mere 14 years from now. Second-children born next year will not be able to enter the workforce in time.
Statistics show that immigrants increase gross domestic product. More people means more production.
In 2014, Germany was also facing a shortage of millions of skilled workers. After Germany agreed to accept 800,000 Syrian refugees, the head of the International Monetary Fund (the IMF) Christine Lagarde said, “If the influx [of refugees] is well-managed, yes, it is bound to be a positive in a society which is aging and which has the fiscal space to accommodate it.”
Economist Thomas Piketty, the author of “Capital in the 21st Century,” recently wrote, the crisis represents an “opportunity for Europeans to jump-start the continent’s economy.”
Why shouldn’t China take a bite of this economy-boosting pie?
There are other ways immigrant populations can benefit China. More workers pay more taxes, which benefit everyone, but especially future generations. Public education in London, England has seen extraordinary improvement in recent years, much of which is credited with the city’s large migrant population.
Immigrants bring different skills and aptitudes and can transmit those to non-immigrant colleagues (and vice versa). They can increase competition in particular labor markets, increasing the incentive for natives to acquire certain skills. Workplace diversity can boost productivity, as a number of U.S. and U.K. studies have shown.
Over the last few years, China has been easing and tweaking its visa policies in order to lure overseas talent. Syria has thousands of willing and eager workers looking for a new place to settle down and raise their families – not just live for a few years and leave as many Western workers do. Immigrants are also often eager to assimilate into their new communities, learning the language and accepting local culture so they can quickly call their new location “home.”
China’s open door policy of the Reform and Opening Up Period was nothing new. China has a history of eagerly welcoming those in need. China should live up to its own reputation and build on the legacy of people like Ho Feng-Shan and welcome Syrian refugees with open arms.