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The ‘Huaren’ of Southeast Asia – The diplomat

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“There are tens of millions of overseas Chinese compatriots, who are all members of a large Chinese family… they have not forgotten their homeland, they have not forgotten their ancestral province, they have not forgotten that in their bodies there is Chinese blood.

Xi Jinping, speaking on June 7, 2014, at the seventh conference of the World Federation of Huaqiao Huaren Associations

China’s entanglement with Southeast Asia has a long history. Filipino tributes arrived in Chinese imperial courts 3000 years ago, while Chinese diplomats set foot in the Khmer Empire in 1296 and forged close ties with the Thai Sukhothai dynasty a few years later. While most of China’s ancient ties to Southeast Asia passed through this tributary system, several dynasties, two opium wars, a communist revolution, and a later capitalist market, relations changed dramatically.

In the middle of the changing dynamics of changing regimes In recent centuries, Chinese migrants have spread to the region to escape poverty or seek opportunities to become the 50 million huaren or overseas Chinese, those who are of Chinese descent but who do not do not have Chinese citizenship. Concentrated in particular in South-East Asia, where they represent more than three quarters of the 369 billion dollars of wealth owned by billionaires from Southeast Asia, their lives have become closely tied to the Chinese state and their economic power has made them a key target of the Chinese Communist Power (CCP) soft power. However, with a complex history and identity of their own, these connections are not as obvious as they seem.

Tan Yu set foot in the Philippines in the late 1900s as one of the many migrants from China’s Fujian Province. After his studies and a stint in the sale of buns in the street, he would create a large textile company, becoming one of the 10 biggest billionaires in the world in 1997. Yet his success story of rags-to-rich is almost unimpressive in comparison to other ethnic Southeast Asian Chinese, including Chia Ek Chor, who moved to Bangkok in 1919 and continued to build what became the 68 billion CP group of dollars; Malaysia Robert kuok, whose business empire includes the founding of the Shangri-La hotels; and the Hartono family, tobacco tycoon from Indonesia. In fact, on the whole, families of Chinese descent topped Southeast Asian billionaire lists despite less than 10 percent of the region’s population. As a result, they hold significant economic power in a region that has collectively become China’s largest trading partner.

The multi-level relationship between China and this diaspora naturally followed political trends. In 1909, the Qing Dynasty claimed jurisdiction over all ethnic Chinese, regardless of where they were based. A few decades later, in the hope of building better relations with ASEAN, the CCP encouraged this diaspora to be loyal to their adopted countries and made a clear distinction between the concept of huaqiao (a living Chinese citizen abroad) and huaren (a foreign citizen of Chinese descent) in the late 1970s. One can be a Chinese citizen or a local citizen, but not both. However, the end of the 20th century ushered in a new era and with China’s reform and opening up, ties with its bamboo network were rekindled. Like Sebastian Strangio noted, 10 percent of the nearly $ 30 billion invested in China by ethnic Chinese overseas came from Southeast Asia. The diaspora has served as a bridge for Chinese business in Southeast Asia and has benefited greatly from China’s rise.For example, two-fifths of the CP group’s annual revenue comes from its Chinese subsidiaries, while the group owns also holdings in large Chinese companies as a Ping An insurance.

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With this rekindling, the boundaries between huaren and huaqiao have once again blurred, especially under Xi Jinpings’ vision of the a big Chinese family and his project of a great rejuvenation of the Chinese nation. Under this new imperative, overseas Chinese have become important not only because of a larger value-based mission, the unification of the homeland, but also for their political or economic influence, seen as the key to economic growth and broader political initiatives. In 2014, after having proposed the One Belt One Road initiative for the first time, X is the definition of sons and daughters of china included both mainland Chinese and overseas Chinese.

To further strengthen these ties with the diaspora, China has launched a multitude of offensives and soft power campaigns targeting its overseas Chinese community. These are often headed by the United Front Work Department, an organization under the umbrella of the CPC that aims to build coalitions locally and internationally in order to achieve party goals. Campaigns have included urging young huarens to study Chinese language, always promising protect those of Chinese origin, pro-China funding think tanks abroad, and take control of the foreigner Chinese language media (including radio, television and newspapers).

Considering the above, it would be easy to assume that China’s soft power and economic opportunities have made life easier for the huaren. But the results of this new proximity have been mixed. In a context of growing distrust of China and a history of significant ethnic tensions within ASEAN countries where the huaren were viewed as unfairly prosperous, these attempts at soft power have also made life more difficult and revived aging. feelings of resentment. In 2015, for example, Malaysian pro-government protesters protested in Kuala Lumpurs Chinatown to denounce the Chinese ethnic community and the leaders, while the Chinese ambassadors for the defense of these Chinese ethnic groups attracted critical of the Malaysian government for interfering in internal affairs. More recently there has been backlash against Chinese ties in Indonesia and the Philippines, and campaigns against Chinese companies in Malaysia. Lots of worries it could get worse.

While CP Chia Ek Chor groups may have named her sons to spell out righteous attempts, greater China and soft power may have rekindled ideological ties with certain families, the huaren are, and always have been, before everything, pragmatic. As businessmen and traders, they seize opportunities wherever they come from and find ways to balance China’s growing power, business realities, and their local ties, just like many leaders. Asians, despite their nation’s mistrust of China. Ultimately, the huaren have built their own identity in their respective countries, and the younger generations, who have often attended local universities or elite institutions around the world, enter the workforce, with distant memories. of a Chinese motherland continue to fade.

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