Saturday, July 13, 2024

Diasporas In The Age of Globalization

Alazar Kebede


It has long been known that diasporas – people who have dispersed from their homelands, often times spanning generations – come into existence because people leave their countries of origin in search of mainly better economic opportunities.

Whether through remittance payments or the new economic linkages they create to their original home country, they make a vital contribution to the geopolitical strength of their countries of origin. In 2022, remittances amounted to close to $800 billion dollars, with India, Mexico and China leading the way. As these groups constitute an important piece of the global equation, it comes as no surprise that the governments of several of these home countries are increasingly trying to make more active use of them for their own economic development and geopolitical weight.

Branko Milanovic, Professor at City University of New York, stated that generally speaking, trying to reattract such people to their home country, where there is a lack of talent in sufficient number and quality to advance its economic and technological development, is a very legitimate cause. But that is not the main aim.

Taking India as a case, there have always been Indians outside India, especially in Asia and Africa, where they established important commercial and economic networks. It is worth remembering that Mahatma Gandhi, the founder of independent India, worked for several years as a lawyer in South Africa at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries. He defended the rights of the tens of thousands of Indians or people of Indian origin who lived there.

At present, about 2.5 million Indians migrate abroad every year, the largest number in the world. The diaspora contributes about $80 billion directly and considerably more indirectly to the Indian economy. The Indian state differentiates between Overseas Indians, officially Non-Resident Indians (NRIs) and Persons of Indian Origin (PIOs) who reside in or originate from outside India. According to a report by the Indian Ministry of External Affairs, there are 32 million Non-Resident Indians and Persons of Indian Origin outside India. Overseas Indians constitute the largest diaspora in the world.

Andres Ortega, a noted Economic Analyst elaborated that, the Indian diaspora contributes consistently to reemerging India’s national movement and to India’s independence. These days, it is a factor in the transformation of the country via its civilizational reach into a global power. Not only is India the most populous country on earth as of this year, according to the UN, but just looking at the level of global notoriety, important Silicon Valley executives are of Indian origin. They include Sundar Pichai of Alphabet, Satya Nadella of Microsoft, Arvind Krishnade IBM and Sanjay Mehrotra of Micron Technology. Not to mention the current British Conservative Prime Minister, Rishi Sunak.

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi sees it as his personal mission to be the chief salesman in convincing Indian-origin people living around the world to re-connect much more actively with their ancestral land. The Indian government is behind the Organization for Diaspora Initiatives (ODI), which has its headquarters in New Delhi, and antennae and offices in various countries. ODI seeks to understand the various diasporas by comparing and contrasting their experiences, and promotes ideas such as the role of the diaspora in the rise of “Global India.”

Discussing the Chinese diaspora, there are also governments that are aiming to control their diaspora with an increasingly hard hand. The paradigmatic case here is China. It is estimated that there are some 50 to 60 million people of Chinese nationality (10.7 million) or origin (including Taiwanese) outside the country, whose origins date back to the ancient Silk Road. Today, the United States, Canada, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore and Australia are destinations with a large presence of Chinese communities.

Arthur Appleton, Professor at John Hopkins University stated that, in some countries, their strong and economically powerful presence is not without problems. Consider Malaysia, for example. As in other countries in the region, ethnic Chinese control a large part of the economy. The fact that this population follows customs and habits that are different from those of the Muslim majorities creates further stresses. In 1969, there were anti-Chinese revolts in Malaysia that have not yet been forgotten, with important resurgences later on.

According to Arthur Appleton, the Chinese government is trying to control more and more of its diaspora. A few weeks ago, two men were arrested on charges of having helped set up a secret police post in New York on behalf of the Chinese government. In addition, three dozen Chinese national police officers were accused of using social media to harass dissidents inside the United States.

Arthur Appleton further noted that China is also trying to control the many Chinese students who travel abroad, especially to the United States, to further their studies. The Chinese ambassador in Washington, Xie Feng, has written a letter to Chinese students in the United States., asking them to support the Chinese Communist Party and “tell China’s story well”, that is, the official one.

According to some reports, tens of thousands of Chinese students pledge allegiance to the regime before traveling abroad. Almost all of them return, there is noticeable loyalty to a regime that has helped them study abroad. However, the level of trepidation among the students is rising. They fear that the authorities will examine the contents of their cell phones and computers upon their return.

Diasporas also contribute to the intimate knowledge of countries and their cultures or the comparative lack thereof. Significantly, in 2021-2022 there were some 290,000 Chinese international students in the United States. In contrast, there were fewer than 2,500 American students in China in 2020, compared to nearly 15,000 ten years earlier. Such disproportions obviously generate an imbalance in mutual knowledge.

Almost all overseas Chinese communicate with their family and friends in China, and with each other, through the WeChat app (similar to, but more powerful than, Whatsapp). After the restrictions imposed on TikTok in the United States, it is now considering banning WeChat as well. While not decided just yet, this would deprive the Chinese side of a powerful advanced communication system and much more.

Here one of the crucial issues to discuss is the issue of Diasporas and xenophobia. Two decades ago, Yale University professor Amy Chua, in her book The World in Flames (2002), argued that, along with the importance of the diasporas that had grown in tandem with globalization, the hatred and rejection they generated among the host populations had also increased.

Those tensions are certainly not limited to the case of the Chinese in Southeast Asia. There are various cases in the West, and especially in Europe. This notably includes the presumably liberal United Kingdom with Brexit, where the level of rejection is increasing not only of European immigration, but also of immigration from the former territories of the British Empire.

To conclude, looking ahead, while diasporas are not a new factor of global politics, how nations deal with them is becoming a relevant part of the struggle for global power shares. Indeed, their respective diasporas are a factor in the growing competition between China and India, which may well mark the world order in the second half of this century.

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