How many Chinese will there be in Africa in 50 year´s time? How will the state-to-state relations develop? After dozens of interviews with author Howard French on his book China’s Second Continent: How a Million Migrants Are Building a New Empire in Africa, The Shanghaiist found some uncovered areas.
If I could ask you to look into the future, where do you see the Chinese population in Africa in 50 years’ time? Will most of the million there now stay? Will African countries have to acknowledge their second, third, or fourth-generation ethnic Chinese citizens? Will the Chinese there hold themselves apart as much as they have done so far?
If I am forced to go out on a limb, I would guess there might be 20 million Chinese people in Africa by mid-century, maybe more. They will be concentrated in African cities, which exhibit some of the highest growth rates in the world. Second and third generation Chinese will very often have African citizenship, and a great many of them will live in an integrated fashion, deeply socialized and networked within their societies of adoption.
You mention in your recent New York Times op-ed that China’s foreign policy has historically been focused on state-to-state relations. Do you see any signs of improvement in this regard? Does the Chinese government now recognize the need to deal with more than just state institutions?
The Chinese state’s preference for state-to-state relations stems from the way China itself functions, with the state arrogating tremendous power for itself even, as has been alluded to here, to decide such matters as “correct” history. The Chinese state is wary of independent authority at home, unwilling to see the emergence of much real pluralism. This makes the Chinese state far less willing and able to interact nimbly and constructively with independent civil society forces in other countries. I think that Beijing sees the need for it to be able to relate better to such forces abroad, but doing so is inherently difficult, and I don’t see that changing much in the near to medium term.
Are you interested in earlier interviews with Howard French? Do have a look at this regularly updated list.