I spent time in three separate cities this week in China and there was something interesting missing from every city: foreigners.
Their absence tells a very worrying story.
Standing in line at immigration for China this week, I noticed how few foreigners there were compared to only five years ago. It wasn’t just one location in China where foreigners were absent – it was several. I spent time in the cities of Shenzhen in the south, Guilin in the west, and Beijing in the north and rarely saw another foreigner. I have lived in China for over 20 years and this was like going back to China in the 1990s.
China already has the smallest number of international migrants of any major country in the world, with only 0.1% compared to 14% in the U.S., 18% in Germany, 2% in neighboring Japan and 3% in South Korea.
It is not just the lack of foreigners that is concerning, but rather the greater problem which the lack of foreigners points to. China’s laws have grown more authoritarian and their international policy so aggressive, that it is no longer just strangling Chinese Christians, but is killing off business, education, foreign investment and leading to isolationism.
“When our child first started school here,” said one BTJ missionary worker this week in a city that I visited, “there were many foreign teachers, but today there aren’t any.” Foreigners living and working in China have found the recent changes in immigration law almost impossible to continue and many have left.
But it isn’t just the foreigners. Chinese are suffering from the changes in policy too. Many foreign experts have departed China and have taken their investment dollars with them. Several large companies have been forced to leave China due to the current environment. During a brief BTJ dinner meeting at a major shopping center this week, things were noticeably quiet.
“Every restaurant in this shopping center used to be packed in the evenings,” said one of the missionaries at our dinner meeting this week, (not named for security reasons), “but now there are almost no customers at all anymore.
“I don’t have one client wanting to invest in China. Not a single client,” John Ramig said in a Reuter’s report. John is a shareholder at the law firm Buchalter, who specializes in international business deals and manufacturing. “Everyone is looking to either sell their Chinese operation, or if they’re sourcing products in China, they’re looking for an alternative place to do that.” Like BTJ, he too says, “That’s dramatically different from what it was even five years ago.”
BTJ works with several large companies and production facilities that support Christian mission work. They all confirm this trend. BTJ has been hosting Business as Mission conferences in Vietnam to help Christians redirecting their investments out of China. As Vietnam provides more freedom for Christians, investments go up.
The impact of China’s new authoritarian laws are felt in other ways too. Like the refugees from China during the days of Mao Zedong, Chinese citizens are fleeing the nation. Many have already seen the writing on the wall and fled the country.
China is also seeing a mass exodus of millionaires. Thousands of Chinese are showing up at the border between Mexico and America looking for asylum. So many Chinese are leaving that BTJ missionaries are reporting that China has deployed an exit ban, a strategy used in the 1960s and 70s, to keep Chinese from escaping the country.
The bottom line is BTJ has reported for four years that an increase of persecution against Christians in China would impact the other sectors of society. The absence of foreigners is not the result of covid-19, but a symptom of China’s dramatic change in its world view. This new world view is anti-Christian and is a danger to the rest of the world.
Religious freedom is directly tied to both a nation’s economic freedom and its long term security. China is losing both. The thing that Christians should understand is that the hardship of the Chinese economy will not remain isolated. A collapse of China’s economy has the potential to lead to civil war, world-wide economic depression and global war.