There are about 30 million overseas Chinese in total, and most reside in neighboring Asian countries. Indonesia and Thailand have the biggest numbers, with about 7-9 million each, while Singapore has the highest concentration of around 3 million, or 75% of its population. One such country that is reaping the benefits of immigration is Malaysia, but is Malaysia returning the favor?
In Malaysia, a unique change is being felt in the immigrant Chinese community, as the Chinese economy strengthens. Many expatriates and clan associations used to send money back to their hometowns in China, but in many places, Chinese villages are now bustling and have no need for money sent from overseas.
In fact, Chinese money is becoming more visible in Penang, a northern state of Malaysia. A bridge that is currently under construction is being partly financed by a cheap loan from the Chinese government. The $1.4bn project is set to be the longest bridge in South East Asia, stretching 15 miles. In return, many of the Chinese community in Malaysia act as a bridge for business opportunities in China.
In 2010, Malaysia was one of China's biggest trading partners from South East Asia. Two-way trade hit $46.3bn last year, with policies to double that amount by 2015. With China’s trade surplus narrowing, it will be ever more important to create trade with other Asian nations, and expatriates are just one way that are helping.
Much of that trade has been established by the Chinese Malaysian community. Malaysia was the first South East Asian country to form diplomatic ties with China in 1974. Because of this the two countries form a special bond. Today, the community makes up 24% of a population of 28 million. Eight out of the top 10 richest Malaysians are ethnic Chinese, according to a Forbes Magazine 2011 list.
As the Chinese economy opens up, Malaysian Chinese act as a bridge because many are educated in the United States or the United Kingdom, but they can also understand the Chinese language and culture. Many of these people can speak three languages (Mandarin, Malay, and English). Because of Malaysia's multilingual education system, Ethnic Chinese can choose to study at the primary level in their home language, which is a huge benefit for their language skills.
On the whole, more can be done to facilitate relations between the two countries. Most Malaysian business in China is due to the Malaysian Chinese, and not Malaysian leaders. Many feel that Malaysian leaders are not serious about China's economic rise. There are a lot of opportunities for Malaysian businesses, but unless they are serious about foreign trade and relations, there won’t be much room for growth. Once they are, the possibilities are endless.