Thursday, May 4, 2017

Can Huaren Count on China's Coattail?

I was alerted by my wife of a review of a book in The Straits Times of Singapore last week: The Rise of China and The Chinese Overseas: A Study of Beijing’s Changing Policy in Southeast Asia and Beyond by Leo Suryadinata. I lost no time in picking up a copy at Kinokuniya.

I have often admired Professor Wang Gungwu for his insightful writing about overseas Chinese and Chinese overseas. (They are quite different, more of it later.) I have not heard about Professor Suryadinata. But from the review, I could discern that they are quite like-minded in so far as the substances go.
From Wikipedia, I learned that Professor Suryadinata (Liauw Kian-Djoe or Liao Jianyu; 廖建裕) is a Chinese Indonesian sinologist. In this book, he identifies himself principally as a senior visiting fellow at Yusof Ishak Institute (ISEAS).
Like Wang, Suryadinata took pain to define Huaqiao (, Chinese living overseas, with implication that their stay is not permanent), Huayi (华裔, descendants of people originally from China) , Huaren (, people of Chinese origin of people who are ethnically Chinese), and the various terms used by the leadership in Mainland China to describe Chinese diaspora across the world. (In place of Hua, one can also use Han ””which is the name of a dynasty Chinese commonly identify themselves with historically.) I am no China scholar; I would just use Huaren to describe someone like me – born outside China to a second-generation immigrant family; bred locally and called the birth country “home”.
The book is an easy read. The message is quite loud and clear: Don’t count on China’s coattail!
With the emergence of China as a power to be reckoned with, many Huaren tend to think we now have a big brother who can stand up to protect us in case of trouble.
Suryadinata examined many instances where Chinese appeared to have been bullied by their adopted countries’ natives. His conclusion was quite persuasive. China couldn’t do much at all. In fact, any strong stance by China usually turned counter-productive.
Suryadinata’s also spoke of the present leadership of China to court Huaren to support its One-Belt-One-Road (OBOR) initiative. He thought the effort was quite misplaced.
We have often heard of this OBOR (some called it BRI (Belt & Road Initiative) since President Xi assumed power. Professor Victor Feng of the University of Macao has spoken in its favour in many academic fora. Sure, there are certainly many win-win opportunities to be had for countries under OBOR (or BRI). But the reality for Huaren in these countries is this: Don’t harbour too much hope. All the project goodies are likely to go to the powers that be in the respective countries!
This OBOR or BRI enthusiasm reminds me of a talk I attended in Singapore recently. A panel of four speakers from China spoke on “Building the Maritime Silk Road in the 21st Century”. Except for one, none of them seems to understand the sentiments of China neighbours well! Theirs is largely a conception of themselves. It’s all China’s way! The arrogance was quite disturbing, really. I couldn’t help raise my hand to register my concern about China’s lack of understanding of local sentiments in their planning. To me, the initiative is simply too China-centric. I was 

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