Xi’s secret economic weapon: Overseas Chinese

by Asia.Nikkei / April 3, 2017

Scholar says today’s ‘new immigrants’ can boost China-US ties

BEIJING — Chinese President Xi Jinping believes that overseas Chinese play a huge role in shaping the country’s economy and politics. That view is no doubt informed by the large contribution Chinese immigrants in the Philippines, Indonesia and elsewhere have made in driving China’s spectacular growth during Xi’s tenure — a time marked by his increasingly strong grip on power.

Many of those overseas Chinese originally hail from the southern province of Fujian, where Xi spent 17 years in high-level government posts. He became the vice mayor of Xiamen in 1985 before going on to serve as mayor of Fujian’s capital, Fuzhou, and later governor of Fujian, a post he held until 2002.

One person who shares Xi’s views about the importance of Chinese immigrants is Zhuang Guotu, 64, a distinguished professor at Xiamen University and a leading expert on the subject. His research helps the government formulate policies for engaging with those overseas communities. Xi even wrote the introduction to one of Zhuang’s books.

The Nikkei recently spoke with Zhuang about the roles overseas Chinese play in Xi’s China.

Q: What roles do ethnic Chinese living abroad play for Xi?

A: The number of Chinese immigrants, including those who have changed their nationalities, is estimated at about 60 million. The number continues to rise as more people study abroad. In terms of population, 60 million is nearly equivalent to the world’s 25th-largest country. As a whole, they hold the eighth-largest amount of assets in the world, meaning they can exert the same amount of influence as a developed country. We estimate they own more than $2.5 trillion in assets.

The richest Chinese immigrants come from Fujian, where Xi spent 17 years. It’s where most of the affluent people in the Philippines, Indonesia and Singapore originally hail from.

Thailand has a large population of Chinese born in the Guangdong Province city of Chaozhou, which is culturally close to Fujian.

Chinese immigrants have been involved in most of the economic development projects in Xiamen and Fuzhou, so Xi regards them as enormously important.

Q: What is Beijing’s policy toward overseas Chinese, specifically?

Scholar says today’s ‘new immigrants’ can boost China-US ties

A: Their role in Chinese history has been huge. Sun Yat-sen [who led the 1911 revolution that overthrew China’s last imperial dynasty], for example, had immigrated to Hawaii.

Deng Xiaoping, who spearheaded China’s reform and opening-up policy [in 1978] also placed importance on Chinese immigrants. That’s why, to attract more investment, he created special economic zones in areas where large numbers of them originally hailed from. Read more…

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