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Growing Number of Chinese Fleeing China and Xi Jinping

Xi Jinping’s preoccupation with realizing the “China Dream of national rejuvenation” by 2050 and building a China-centric world order has papered over the inherent contradictions, cracks and limitations within the Chinese communist regime and the Chinese society. However, the “China Dream” might just remain a dream as a growing number of Chinese citizens appear disillusioned and are choosing to pursue a brighter future and greater freedom in America and the West. 

International media and observers have reported extensively in recent times over Chinese migration particularly those crossing illegally into the United States. The New York Times says that over 24,000 Chinese citizens were arrested crossing into the United States from Mexico from November 2022 to November 2023. The NYT piece published on November 24, 2023 also reported that “of the 1.3 million people in the United States with final orders to be deported, about 100,000 are Chinese.” The piece listed “harsh restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic and the direction of Xi Jinping’s authoritarian government” as prime triggers for the exodus. Mark Xu, 35, a Chinese elementary and middle school English teacher, when asked why he was seeking asylum in the U.S., is quoted saying “the largest reason for me is the political environment” and that China had become so stifling that it had become “difficult to breathe.”

‘Disillusioned about China’, more Chinese aim for US via risky Darien Gap is the headline of the story carried by Al Jazeera on February 22, 2024. 

The Al Jazeera piece reports “in 2023, more than 500,000 migrants crossed the treacherous Darien, which is the only overland route from South to North America, according to data collected by the Panamanian government. Just over 25,000 of those migrants were Chinese, making them the fourth largest overall nationality and the largest outside of the Americas to making the crossing.”

The Darien Gap is a 60 mile stretch of densely forested jungle that connects northern Colombia and southern Panama. It is now a major route for global human migration. 

The section of the story titled ‘Why we want to go to the United States’ provides a true picture of today’s China under Xi Jinping. 

During a two-day visit in Necocli, Al Jazeera observed dozens of Chinese migrants preparing for the journey, including engineers, teachers and computer programmers.

Waiting on the beach to leave on a boat to Panama with a friend, Wu Xiaohua, 42, said he opted to take one of those quicker journeys because he is eager to arrive in the US and start work as soon as possible. Originally from Hunan province, Xiaohua moved to Shanghai to work as a taxi driver, but since the pandemic, life has been a struggle.

“There are major problems in our country’s economy,” he said. ‘We have no choice but to survive. That’s why we want to go to the United States.”

“Our requirements are very simple: We can afford medical treatment, have a place to live, our children can afford to go to school and our family can be safe.”

One migrant, Huang, who asked to share only her surname, said she left Beijing two months ago after China’s strict COVID-19 lockdowns ended her employment as a masseuse, leaving her barely able to survive day to day.

“I sold everything that I had,” Huang said. “We were treated like caged animals.”

Ai Weiwei, the Chinese dissident artist and activist reportedly told Al Jazeera that this new phenomenon of a huge spike in Chinese people making the journey across the Darien Gap “is a sign of declining trust in the government.”

CNN ran The ‘walking route’: How an underground industry is helping migrants flee China for the US on January 8, 2024. 

“In the first 11 months of 2023, more than 31,000 Chinese citizens were picked up by law enforcement crossing illegally into the US from Mexico, government data shows – compared with an average of roughly 1,500 per year over the preceding decade.”

The influx of people from China making that crossing spotlights the urgency many now feel to leave their native country, even in the midst of what leader Xi Jinping has claimed is a “national rejuvenation.

Many who left point to a struggle to survive.

Three years of Covid-19 lockdowns and restrictions left people across China out of work – and disillusioned with the ruling Communist Party’s increasingly tight grip on all aspects of life under Xi. Now, hope that business would fully rebound once restrictions ended a year ago has vanished, with China’s once envious economic growth stuttering.

Others nod to restrictions on personal life in China, where Xi has overseen a sweeping crackdown on free speech, civil society and religion in the country of 1.4 billion.

“We are Christians,” one neatly dressed middle-aged man said simply when asked what had led him there – a bare encampment thousands of miles from home.

UN data shows the number of people from China seeking political asylum in the US and elsewhere around the world has sharply risen during Xi’s rule – climbing from nearly 25,000 in 2013 to more than 120,000 globally in the first six months of 2023.

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