In this webinar, experts discussed how the growing presence of new Chinese migrants will affect the relationship between China and nation states, as well as the nation-building process, across Southeast Asia.
REGIONAL SOCIAL AND CULTURAL STUDIES PROGRAMME
Online Workshop on Rising China and New Chinese Migrants in Southeast Asia
Friday, 8 December 2020 – The ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, with support from Konrad Adenauer Stiftung, held a webinar titled “Nationalism, National Sovereignty, and the Presence of Xinyimin in Southeast Asia” as part of a 4-part workshop series on “Rising China and New Chinese Migrants in Southeast Asia”. The webinar explored how the activities of new Chinese migrants (xinyimin) can affect the social fabric and economic landscape of host countries. The webinar was moderated by Dr Hui Yew-Foong (ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute) and it featured the insights of Professor Danny Wong Tze Ken (University of Malaya) Dr Tan Teng Phee (former curator, Sun Yat Sen Nanyang Memorial Hall) and Dr Andrew Ong (ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute).
Professor Wong presented on the topic “The Xinyimin Presence in Malaysia: A New Transnational Experience”. He began by explaining the difference between old migrants and new migrants, and the reasons why a different analytical lens is necessary for the latter group as existing scholarship that have been aimed at integration may not be relevant in the current landscape of the rise of China in the global world order. Professor Wong identified the Belt and Road initiative, officially launched in 2013, as the starting point of the influx of new Chinese migrants ––– in particular students and professionals ––– to Malaysia. Professor Wong also drew attention to the “Malaysia My Second Home” programme, introduced in 1987, which has contributed to the ‘anti-China’ narrative and perceived rise in property prices in major cities across the country. Professor Wong observed that the relationship between Malaysians and xinyimin is vastly different compared the relationship between Malaysians and the local Chinese. He commented that this phenomenon will continue to have bearing on Malaysia-China relations and Malaysia’s nation-building process.
Dr Tan shared about the impacts of xinyimin in Singapore. He suggested that xinyimin were attracted to Singapore’s open immigration policy, economic and education opportunities, stable political system and society, and prospects of enhancing quality of life. Dr Tan said that there has been local grievances against the xinyimin, such as competition for jobs, local politicians showing favouritism towards the xinyimin and the dilution of Singapore’s national identity. According to Dr Tan, the primary challenge for the xinyimin in Singapore has been cultural integration. As a cultural bridge between Singaporeans and the xinyimin, there has been several new immigrant organizations such as the Hua Yuan Association and the Tianjin Association. Dr Tam also noted that there has also been state efforts to help new migrants integrate with local society via organizations such as the People’s Association and the National Integration Council.
In the final presentation, Dr Ong explored entrepreneurial excursion of Chinese migrants at the peripheral regions of Myanmar. With a focus on the Wa region which is a self-administered division of the Shan state, Dr Ong reported that Myanmar exports rubber, tin, sugarcane to China. Together with United Wa State Army elites, the Chinese also run hotels, restaurants, casino, tin mining, and rubber plantations. Dr Ong pinpointed ease of movement in autonomous regions such as the Wa state as an attraction for new migrants to reach Myanmar without documents, and for them to stay without commitment until they see potential for further movement. Dr Ong suggested that Burmese state sovereignty may become fractured as Chinese presence provides revenue for insurgent or autonomous groups. Additionally, insurgent or autonomous groups may become integrated into the Burmese economy with the help of Chinese capital.
The webinar concluded with a Question and Answer session. The online audience raised questions to the speakers about xinyimin-exclusive associations in Singapore, the possibility of anti-China sentiments shaping government actions and the role of ethnic Chinese elite in host countries.