Beijing's policy towards the Chinese overseas began to change at the end of the twentieth century, when there was a sudden surge in Chinese migration to the West, mainly Canada and the United States. It was reported that some of these new migrants who hold foreign citizenship started urging China to amend its 1980 single citizenship law so that they could have dual citizenship status. The Overseas Chinese Affairs Office (OCAO), also known as Qiaowu bangongshi or Qiaoban in Mandarin, which had been inactive for some years, started to strive for their cause then. OCAO officials began exercising their influence on Chinese overseas affairs and having some bearing on China's foreign policy. This chapter deals briefly with the organization of OCAO, its increasingly important role in Chinese overseas affairs, its initiative in blurring the distinction between Chinese nationals and foreign Chinese, its attempts at reviving a dual nationality law, and its links to the “One Belt One Road” Strategy.
THE CHINESE OVERSEAS
In 2015, China's OCAO estimated that there were 60 million Chinese overseas. This is also the figure that Beijing's top leaders, including Premier Li Keqiang, cite. In contrast, the Taiwan Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission estimated the number to be 42 million as at end 2014. This is a conservative estimate, lower even than the estimate the Chinese OCAO used in 2010, i.e., 45.4 million. Scholars Dudley L. Poston, Jr., and Mei–Yu Yu assess the Taiwan Overseas Chinese Affairs Commission's statistics to be more valuable because they are “systematic and comparable overtime”.
If we use the Taiwanese estimates, there were 39,568,000 Chinese overseas in 2010 (see Table 2.1), of which the largest concentration was in Asia, constituting about 76 per cent. Of the Chinese overseas in Asia, the largest numbers were in Southeast Asia, accounting for about 91 per cent in 2010 (see Table 2.2).
It should be noted that the percentage of the Chinese overseas in Southeast Asia has significantly declined in the past fifty years owing to the new wave of Chinese migration to the developed countries. In the mid–1950s, for instance, 96.7 per cent of the Chinese overseas were found in Asia, compared to 2.4 per cent in America. But, by 2010, the Chinese in America had increased to 18.6 per cent (7,255,000) of the population.