Howard French
Howard French

The stay-behind effect is one of the phenomenons author and journalist Howard French describes in his latest book China’s Second Continent Chinese workers arrive on an mission for their company in Africa, and stay to hang on, as they discover it is not such a bad place for them.  From NPR.

Howard French:

As far back as mid-’90s, China’s political leaders had the foresight to understand that Africa had a great deal of unrecognized economic potential — and had a particular kind of demographic profile, meaning that Africa’s population was set to increase very rapidly. There was a great prospect that Africa would also have, along with this demographic rise, growing middle classes. So China was — at the same [time] it was seeking to secure natural resources — it was beginning to think about Africa as a place where it could develop markets, important markets for the future.

On the sector of Chinese society that is migrating to Africa

Most of the people we’ve been talking about so far in terms of migration are what in our country would be called working-class, or at best, socio-economically speaking, lower-middle-class people. As such they tend to come from secondary cities in China, especially in cities that are not on the east coast in China, where most of wealth is concentrated. And people in those cities have not benefited from the full blush of economic growth that China has enjoyed for the last 30 or so years.

On how state policies and individual choices influence Chinese emigration

In ’90s, Beijing begins to formulate this idea of “Going Out” — that was the official name of the policy — where a national priority was established to seek business in faraway lands, places like Africa, where China didn’t have much of a history of economic engagement. … This is very much a state-driven process.

But then something very interesting begins to happen. Once Chinese companies begin to secure projects in these sorts of places — for example the construction of a port, or an airport, or a highway system — they move a thousand or 2,000 workers to the target country for a fixed period of time, a year or two … At the end of that period, a certain percentage of workers decide to stay, decide Africa is not such a bad place after all.

… That stay-behind phenomenon is an individual decision. I don’t see evidence that the Chinese state has been a major factor in encouraging what has become a form of migration, where these people complete contracts and remain on the ground in the destination country for the medium or longer term.

More at NPR.

Howard French is a speaker at the China Speakers Bureau. Do you need him at your meeting or conference? Do get in touch or fill in our speakers´ request form.

Are you interested in more experts focusing on China´s outbound investments at the China Speakers Bureau? Here is a recent list.

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