Want To Beat China? Let in More Chinese!
More immigration from China would both hobble a geopolitical rival and make America richer and better.
Bipartisan consensus is rare in Washington. But while politicians today seem eager to draw battle lines around everything, from gas stoves to cars to suburbs, they all seem to agree on one thing: It's time to get tough on China.
While many politicians and pundits from across the spectrum are pushing for Congress to ban TikTok, the popular social media app with ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), they'd do better to direct their fury at America's strict immigration laws, not a platform for viral videos.
A complex set of formulas caps immigration from China at about 150,000 people per year. For a country with 1.4 billion people, that's not even a drop in the bucket. Radically increasing or eliminating this limit would do much more to halt China's rise as a global power than harming American users by banning TikTok. Many young Chinese would jump at the chance to move to the U.S.
Why would so many Chinese be eager to leave their homes to move thousands of miles away? For starters, the United States is much, much richer. Despite decades of unprecedented economic growth, China's gross domestic product (GDP) per capita is still 80 percent lower than America's. For all its development and flashy infrastructure projects, China is barely a middle-income country. As of 2022, more than half of the country lives on less than $10 per day, compared to only 3 percent of Americans and about 2 percent of Europeans.
Further, China has a repressive, authoritarian government. Despite China's harsh penalties for dissent, many of its citizens have taken to the streets in recent months to speak out against state oppression. This suggests that many Chinese, especially young and educated ones, are unhappy with the Communist regime.
On top of that, only 7 percent of Chinese citizens are members of its ruling CCP. The party has made membership a highly competitive and coveted necessity for those wishing to advance in Chinese business or government. That leaves 93 percent of Chinese citizens without access to the country's biggest source of money, power, and influence. For these people especially, America offers for opportunity for advancement.
This is a perilous situation for the regime in Beijing. Millions of working-aged people could escape its poverty and tyranny if restrictive immigration laws weren't a barrier. From 1940 to 1950, well over a million black Americans left the destitute and oppressive regime of the Jim Crow South. That was more than 10 percent of the South's African-American population. If just 1 percent of China's working-age population took the chance to escape, the nation would lose nearly 10 million people.
China already faces a demographic crisis. Its population is aging and now declining, with its social safety net increasingly strained. The CCP, long reliant on economic growth for its legitimacy, faces the possibility that China will grow old before it grows rich. Bright young people drive economic growth in any nation. Their exodus would doom China to languish in economic and demographic turmoil.
Allowing more Chinese people into American would not only harm a perceived adversary; it would actively help the United States as well. Immigrants have been an economic engine for America. Immigrants and their children make up a disproportionate share of patent holders, as well as nearly half of the founders of Fortune 500 companies. Even an average year of immigration to the U.S., according to some estimates, increases GDP by as much as $72 billion.
Just look at what other refugees from communism have done for America. It's difficult to imagine Miami without its Cuban influence, Los Angeles without its Cambodian-owned donut shops, Orange County without Little Saigon, or New York without its Russian community. Beyond the moral arguments for letting millions escape communism and for weakening a tyrannical state, opening up to Chinese migrants just makes economic sense.
Unlike most immigration issues, this one has a serious shot at finding bipartisan support. Since 2016, Democrats have increasingly called for more open immigration laws, criticizing restrictive ones as inhumane. Republicans have taken a tougher stance, but they might make an exception this time: Worldwide, refugees from communism tend to gravitate toward conservative. In 2020, these communities in New York, Florida, and California strongly backed Donald Trump. That might increase the GOP's interest in letting in more immigrants from China, especially if many settle in swing states.
More important than any effect on partisan considerations, being open to more Chinese immigrants would be safer and more effective than Washington's current policy consensus. Antagonism presents a risk that the Beijing and Washington will stumble into a deadly, perhaps even nuclear, military conflict.
The U.S. might not win a conventional war. And even if it did, its victory might not be complete enough to keep China from emerging as a global power. A war could also entrench the world into two competing camps, cementing China's sphere of influence instead of breaking it. Even a complete victory for the U.S. could be pyrrhic. It might leave the economy in ruins or cause so much loss of life that the U.S. is worse off than before.
If officials really want to get tough on China, the most effective thing to do is to lower the drawbridge for people fleeing the CCP's totalitarian grip. This would not only weaken the regime in Beijing. It would benefit the U.S., have potential bipartisan appeal, and carry low risks of escalation.