【The Strait Times】Beijing to study migration issues by joining IOM: Official

Date:2015-4-24 Author:The Straits Times

CHINA is seeking to become a full member of the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), which shows its seriousness in wanting to better manage the transition of rural workers to the cities and to attract global talent for its economic restructuring drive.

Its intention was revealed at the International Forum on Global Migration and Development in Beijing yesterday by Professor Wang Huiyao, president of independent think-tank Centre for China and Globalisation (CCG).

He said China, an IOM observer-state since 2001, hopes to become a member so as "to pick up useful and interesting lessons" on migration issues.

IOM chief of staff Ovais Sarmad, who was at the forum organised jointly by the CCG and the China Global Talents Society, confirmed China’s interest. "In my discussions with the Chinese government officials, I was told they are seriously looking at a formal membership," he told The Straits Times.

Founded in 1951, the IOM is an inter-government organisation with 157 member-states, and is also the world’s leading outfit helping to improve migration-related policies and also respond to emergencies such as refugee crises. It has offices in more than 100 countries, including in Beijing.

Yesterday’s event was billed as China’s first high-level forum on global migration, and is seen as a firm signal from the Chinese leadership of its renewed resolve to step up efforts and research on this issue. Issues discussed by the more than 100 participants from over 10 countries centred on how governments can cope with challenges and opportunities arising from global migration trends.

For instance, Dr Sarmad pointed out, some one billion people or one-sixth of the global population are in some form of migration, with 240 million crossing international borders and the rest moving within their countries. "We call this the era of unprecedented Asian mobility. There is huge potential that needs to be managed and governed," he said.

China’s millions of rural workers, who have flocked from villages to cities over the past three decades and are expected to continue doing so over the coming years, are a good example of domestic migrants, he added.

Rural workers pose one of the key migration challenges for China’s government as they are counted on to help boost domestic consumption, identified as a future driver of China’s economic growth. But to do so, China has to expand their access to public services in cities while assuaging the concerns of urban residents over the inflows of migrants.

Another challenge lies in retaining talented locals and attracting skilled foreigners who may be deterred by the slowing economy and an increasingly polluted living environment. Professor Liu Xuezhi, vice-president of the Chinese Academy of Personnel Sciences, said China could enhance its appeal to talented individuals if they are given opportunities to be involved in restructuring the economy and improving one of the world’s most polluted countries.

Dr Howard Duncan, executive head of the Metropolis Project, a network of experts from over 70 countries on migration and cities, urged China to also open its arms wider to young foreigners who could help in its drive to become a more innovative economy. He also noted how overseas Chinese and skilled foreign talent had been enticed to come here by the emotional appeal that they would be seeing a history-making period of rapid economic growth.

"Now it should think likewise about the emotional aspect in luring foreign talent to China," he said.(By Kor Kian Beng)