The New Soft Power: Chinese Diaspora

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The biggest, by far, of the diaspora influence in their home country politically, economically, socially and technologically is the Chinese Diaspora. The Chinese Diaspora goes back hundreds of years due to the migratory nature of the Chinese people and the fact that some of them are nomads. It is a given fact that more Chinese live outside mainland China than French people live in France, with some to be found in almost every country. No other social networks offer the same global reach, with companies and governments taking notice.

The Chinese Diaspora is long established in many countries, sometimes dating back to the 19th century, or much earlier in south-east Asia. It is often very diverse, combining several generation settlers from Hong Kong and southern China with a large wave of new migrants, many poor and illegal; growing numbers of students; and those connected with China’s burgeoning overseas economic interests, who are especially to be found in the countries around its borders. It is estimated that there are now at least half a million Chinese living in Africa, most of whom have arrived very recently. There are more than seven million Chinese in each of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, more than one million each in Burma and Russia, 1.3 million in Peru, 3.3 million in the US, 700,000 in Australia and 400,000 in this country – about 40 million in all, which is almost certainly a considerable underestimate.

The overseas Chinese have played a crucial role in China’s economic growth, providing the lion’s share of inward investment since the late 1970’s. According to the World Bank, in 2007 China received more remittances – nearly $26bn – than any other country except India.

China as a country tended to look down at their citizens that lives overseas in the past; it looked at them as unpatriotic, but since about three decades ago, the Chinese government started some policies that have increasingly given more value to overseas Chinese communities.  After two centuries during which their homeland was synonymous with poverty and failure, it has risen to a position of great global prominence and allure in a remarkably short space of time.

The Chinese diaspora, however, has three characteristics that together mark it out as distinct. First, it is numerically large and spread all around the globe, from places as far off as Porto Novo in West Africa to remote areas of Sofia in Europe, east Asia to the Americas. Second, for historical and cultural reasons, it enjoys an unusually strong identification with the Middle Kingdom. Third, with China’s continued rise as a global power and the fact that it is taking on more responsibilities for world peace due to the new protectionist policies of Trump’s America, which perhaps make China the most powerful country in the world, and as China’s worldwide interests grow exponentially, the Chinese Diaspora is likely to expand greatly, become increasingly prosperous, buoyed by China’s own economic success, enjoy growing prestige because of China’s rising status and feel an even closer affinity with China.

The Chinese Diaspora influenced the conception and implementation of special economic zones (SEZs). And the technology and capital they sunk into these SEZs powered the take-off of China’s export industries, weighing the political scales in favour of continued liberalization and opening.

Diaspora investment revitalised the Chinese private sector’s flagging ‘township and village’ enterprises, and underpinned a national balance of payments that allowed importation of capital goods to upgrade the wider economy. It more than compensated for the fall-off in Western investment during the post-Tiananmen years, when China’s growth dropped to levels creating fears of a recession. The foreign-invested export sector played a key role in shifting China’s economic position within the region. China went from a net capital importer with wages half the ASEAN average to an economy that today has wage levels twice the ASEAN average, and is the largest growth source of regional foreign direct investment.

 China itself is moving towards a more knowledge intensive economy with ever denser cross-border interactions.  The changing nature of overseas Chinese communities and their relationship to China is a subject that deserves further exploration, not least due to the growing political attention it is commanding according to John Lee, a former visiting fellow at the Mercator institute of China studies.

The main takeaway for Nigeria from the Chinese Diaspora model is the Export Processing Zones, a lot of which are scattered all over Nigeria but with a strong need for the model to be modified to encourage more Nigerian Diaspora to galvanise and run it to help develop our export sector and help the country get away from the reliance on oil which is fast becoming less attractive in the global market.

The Interview Editors

Written by The Interview Editors

The Interview is a niche publication, targeting leaders and aspiring leaders in business, politics, entertainment, sports, arts, the professions and others within society’s upper middle class and high-end segment in Nigeria.