Response to our petition to reconsider location of the 2020 International Metropolis migration conference in Beijing

Further to our petition on, the co-chairs of the Conference, Jan Rath of the University of Amsterdam and Paul Spoonley, Massey University New Zealand, provided the following response:

The International Metropolis Project has been made aware of a petition urging that Metropolis change the location of our 2020 annual conference which is  planned for Beijing in June. The argument that the petition expresses concerns about  the position and actions taken by the Government of China with respect to some of the country’s ethnic minorities and with respect to freedom of expression. Let it be said that Metropolis understands these concerns, which have long been voiced, and takes them seriously. But let it also be said that Metropolis has always been – and remains – an apolitical network that believes in the value of international exchange among a whole range of migration players and stakeholders, to enhance mutual understanding. It also believes in engagement and dialogue over isolation. We, therefore, stand by the decision to accept the offer of the Beijing-based think tank, the Centre for China and Globalization, to host the Metropolis Conference in 2020.

China has emerged not only as a major economic power in the world, but also as a country with a significant role in migration, whether in Asia or globally. For us to understand regional and global migration means understanding China’s role in migration, both as a country of origin and, more recently, a country of destination. To ignore China in the field of migration today is to have but a partial understanding of global migration phenomena. An International Metropolis Conference there offers a direct opportunity for members of the Metropolis network to meet and engage with their counterparts in that country and in the region, and vice-versa. We trust that this will foster an enhanced mutual understanding of migration developments.

The petition that asks Metropolis to re-locate the 2020 conference originates in Canada, which is now engaged in a sensitive and difficult diplomatic matter with China. This is no matter for Metropolis to get involved with. Furthermore, that Metropolis should choose to hold its conferences in any particular country is not to be taken as support for the policies of our host country, regardless of which country it is. No country is without blemishes in its policies and actions, not even those with enviable reputations regarding migration. That is why, engaging in international exchanges of the kind that Metropolis conferences facilitate is important to keep the dialogue going and to map out issues of interest  and concern in an informed manner. The 2020 Metropolis Conference in Beijing is being organized jointly by the Metropolis International Steering Committee and the Centre for China and Globalization. The Government of China is not involved in setting the agenda or the terms of the debate. As always, the program is set by the International Steering Committee, specifically its Chairs in consultation with the local host in Beijing, China. This will therefore be a regular International Metropolis Conference located in a country that, owing to its current migration dynamics, offers a range of pertinent insights for those who take part.

As we said, although we understand the concerns expressed in the petition and we take them seriously, we regard the petition as mistaken in its position that it is better to isolate than to engage.

We will, in due course, post a formal response but suffice to say, to make the assertion that:

“The Government of China is not involved in setting the agenda or the terms of the debate. As always, the program is set by the International Steering Committee, specifically its Chairs in consultation with the local host in Beijing, China.”

The Chinese host is, of course, the Center for China and Globalization (CCG), part of the United Front Work Department, a branch of the Chinese Communist Party, that aims to project Chinese government influence.

Once again, grateful that you consider signing the petition ( and spreading the word as the more signatures we get, and the broader the geographic coverage, the better (as of November 8, we have about 140 signatories, about three quarters from Canada with the vast majority of the rest being from the US.


About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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