Q&A: Preethi Amaresh, Author of 'Nànmín: Concavity of China’s Refugee Policy'

Preethi Amaresh is a Political Scientist who is pursuing Doctor of International Relations from Geneva School of Diplomacy, Switzerland. She is also a foreign affairs columnist and frequently writes for reputed international and national journals and magazines. She has recently come out with the book Nànmín: Concavity of China’s Refugee Policy, which is about China’s treatment of refugees’ from different ethnicities and the country’s engagement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

I chat with Preethi about her book, China’s refugee policy, the research process that her book entailed, book recommendations, and much more.

Hello, Preethi! Tell us a bit about yourself!

I was born and raised by Telugu speaking parents in Bangalore, India. I completed my schooling from St. Paul’s English School, Bangalore and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Jyoti Nivas College (Autonomous), Bangalore. Soon after, I moved to Chennai where I completed M.Sc. in Psychology from University of Madras. But, due to further lack of interest in the field, I chose to do another Masters in International Relations from University of Madras (which I totally loved!), where I was also the gold medallist (Batch topper). I am currently pursuing Doctor in International Relations from Geneva School of Diplomacy, Switzerland that I am scheduled to complete soon and earn my “Dr” tag.

I have also been successful in authoring two books Nihonomics: Economic Foreign Policy of Japan and Nànmín: Concavity of China’s Refugee Policy. All my life, I have taken enough risks by experimenting with what I really want and my failures and critics have only made me stronger. Today, I take pride in being a “Self-made” woman and feel happy and content with the person I wake up to each morning and the career I chose in life that will any day, for sure, be the first priority in life than anyone or anything else.

Which authors and books were your early formative influences?

Being a bibliophile, I admire Jane Austen, Paulo Coelho and Robin Sharma, having read almost all their books. Books such as The Diary of a Young Girl by Anne Frank (about the Nazi holocaust), Pax Indica and An Era of Darkness: The British Empire in India by Shashi Tharoor, Indian Cultures as Heritage and other books of Romila Thapar, The Clash of Civilizations and the Remaking of World Order by Samuel Huntington, The Rise and Fall of the Great Powers by Paul Kennedy and Does the Elephant Dance?: Contemporary Indian Foreign Policy by David Malone have been my early formative influences before I decided to become an author.

I feel glad that the influence of English literature runs in my family genes. Since childhood days, I got an opportunity to read books by Danielle Steel and Sidney Sheldon as my late father was an avid reader. My mother has likewise been a great influence in inculcating in me the habit of reading different genres of books since school days. I still remember that my school would host an annual book fair by Scholastic, and my mother always encouraged me to buy books there. However, it was during my graduation days in Jyoti Nivas College that my love for English literature and reading novels grew, and I would stash up new novels every month in my mini library at home.

Please tell us more about the book Nànmín: Concavity of China’s Refugee Policy.

The word “Nànmín” means “Refugee” in Chinese language. The book Nànmín is about “China’s refugee policy” and the country’s treatment of refugees’ from different ethnicities, besides China’s engagement with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Despite China being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, it has no domestic definition of a refugee. China, in fact has not prioritized a refugee policy. Though the country has emphasized addressing the root causes of the refugee crises, it has often failed in terms of refugee convention and protocol. China, being the second-largest economy in the world, should make an effort in treating all refugees equally. As the refugee crisis is set to increase at an unprecedented rate in the post-COVID world, a comprehensive review of China’s refugee policy is the need of the hour, for its reputation at the global stage.

'Nànmín: Concavity of China’s Refugee Policy', published by Notion Press

What was the moment when the idea of the book first came to be? What made you pursue it?

I began writing my second book Nànmín in 2017, while I was working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), India, and I finally decided to finish this book in 2020. This was because I wanted to close the 2020 red curtain with a book on China.

There were times when I experienced “Writer’s block” and I am really fortunate to have my family and a small bunch of near and dear ones who supported me throughout my journey or it wouldn’t have been possible. I believe that all that matters to me is the quality of people in my life who push me forward to accomplish more. Authoring books will always remain my hobby and a passion. Likewise, I want to learn from my critics and get better with each book I write in the coming years. Obviously, an author can never be perfect and that’s okay!

Can you tell in brief about the refugee policy of China and its international engagements on the issue of refugees for readers who might not yet be familiar with these developments?

I have mentioned earlier that despite China being a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol, it has no domestic definition of a refugee. China’s treatment towards refugees differs. For instance, China doesn’t treat a Syrian refugee like how it has treated an Indo-Chinese refugee in the past. In the last few years and post-COVID, China has been under constant criticism from various nations across the world. While it is hard to give a brief about China’s international engagements on the refugee issues, keeping in mind the complexity of the topic, my book consists of thirteen chapters that explain about China’s engagements with the Indo-Chinese refugees, Rohingyas, Kachins, Kokangs, Syrians, North Koreans, Tibetans, Uighurs and Hong Kong refugees. Apart from that, it also contains information on China’s engagement with the UNHCR with regard to each of these refugees. The book also has a separate chapter on the COVID pandemic and China’s future position at the international level, which is a trending global issue.

What was your research process like for the purpose of writing this book?

Writing a book on International Relations or Politics is complicated and requires an assiduous planning. It definitely demands a lot of time, patience and keeping yourself up-to-date with the current global happenings. I have referred multiple sources (Books, Websites, Journals, Academic papers, etc.) before I began writing Nànmín.

It is really hard to write a non-fiction book, as it entails a lot of research, so I had prioritized my tasks, keeping in mind my busy schedule. The purpose of writing this book is to make the readers understand about a topic which is less researched, because when the world talks about China, it is always the voguish issues like Belt and Road Initiative, Trade war with the USA, China’s land grab strategy, China-Pakistan Economic Corridor or China’s position in the post-COVID world that pop up. One doesn’t hear much about China’s engagement with refugees and UNHCR. So, I thought it was the perfect time to bring out Nànmín: Concavity of China’s Refugee Policy to the readers.

What is the message that you want readers to take away from this book?

The Chinese dragon changes its stance the way it wishes to, does what it wants to, and doesn’t care what the world thinks. I believe China and everything about China is an “enigma” and will remain so. This book can be used as a reference by the doctoral researchers, academia, media and others who are interested in comprehending this particular topic.

How have you been coping with the current pandemic and what will be the new normal for you post it?

The year 2020 has been a testing time for humanity due to COVID-19, which is still at the tipping point as the pandemic dust is yet to settle down, considering the new U.K. strain that has recently erupted. The pandemic has been both an opportunity and a challenge for me. While I lost out on some good travelling assignments abroad that were already fixed, on the bright side some new opportunities came my way too. Though initially it was hard for me to cope up psychologically, I have now comfortably adjusted to the current pandemic. The new normal would be to travel extensively, finish my doctoral research this year and also complete my pending books. I have some new things running in my mind too. Oops! Let it be in the closet for now!

Lastly, are you currently reading anything and do you have any book recommendations for our readers?

Nope, it’s been a few weeks since I started reading a new book due to my busy schedule. But I do have some good book recommendations for the readers such as White Mughals and The Anarchy by William Dalrymple, Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed by Jared Diamond and The Silk Roads: A New History of the World by Peter Frankopan.

The book ‘Nànmín: Concavity of China’s Refugee Policy’ is available online and at your nearest bookstore.

From Jammu, J&K; Studied in DPS, Jammu.