Sunday, July 26, 2009

Chinese are here to stay with us – Part 5

This article was published by Sunday Chronicle under "Asia Pacific Perspective: China +" column on Sunday July 26, 2009
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By Mathew Yakai

CHINESE nationals in PNG adopt practices of settlement without assimilating into local society, and also practices of frequent return to their original countries or re-migration to third countries.

In view of the fact that they consist of several sub-groups from various countries of origin, the contemporary PNG Chinese are made up of Chinese decedents from East and Southeast Asian countries who have different reasons to migrate.

The sojourning character of the PNG Chinese population is a consequence of these decedent’s strategic practices of settlement and migration.

It is often suggested that immigrant communities have a different character from people in the homeland because of their interactions with host societies.

Although the influence of the host society is crucial, the migrants’ experiences of the immigration and emigration processes also play an important part.

The strategic practices in selecting settlement or migration based on the individual’s circumstances have brought about the sojourning nature of the Chinese population in PNG.

One should not assume that the sojourning status of the ethnic Chinese in contemporary PNG is inherent and static.

Their hybrid and diasporic nature is molded by the environment in which they live.

The sojourning status of the ethnic Chinese of PNG should be seen as a consequence of their strategic practices.

Considering the sojourning status of the ethnic Chinese enables us to seize their ambiguous status.

To understand the dynamic nature of the sojourning status of the ethnic Chinese, it is necessary to look at the Chinese in PNG who react to domestic and transnational conditions in adopting strategic practices.

Some Chinese residents are anxious about their status as members of an ethnic minority which may attract attacks or other forms of violence from rascals and political rioters.

One local born Chinese man in Port Moresby describes his life as just like “doing business in jail.”

Because of the frequency of robbery, most of the houses and shops in the cities are surrounded by fences or barbed wire.

Some shops in Port Moresby hire security guards or keep watch dogs for protection.

This man was born in PNG and had run his own business in Port Moresby for a few decades. He decided to sell his shops after they were broken into. He also sold two of his properties and prepared to migrate to Australia.

The concern at the deterioration of socio-economic conditions is shared by Chinese new comers as well.

One woman from PRC working in Port Moresby is worried not only about her business, but also the possible fallout on the Chinese as an ethnic minority in the country.

She is afraid that anti- Chinese movements like those in Indonesia and Honiara may take place targeting the Chinese as a minority group engaged in business at a time when the PNG economy is depressed.

She could continue running her business in PNG, but says she cannot draw out a long-term plan because of those problems.

The instability of the PNG economy and society has affected the Chinese life style. Some Chinese are looking for alternative places to live. They have become reluctant exiles in a sense.

The Chinese in PNG have thus put both settlement and emigration strategies into practice.

In the late 1950s, Chinese old comers were allowed to acquire Australian citizenship which enabled them to go and stay in Australia.

They had also tended to go to Australia for higher education in the colonial period, largely because PNG did not have enough higher educational institutions.

Education was hence an important issue affecting their decisions relating to migration.

In the colonial era, Chinese students would return to and work in PNG after their graduation. But this changed after PNG attained independence.

Increasing numbers of Chinese students began to stay on in Australia even after graduation. The other members of their families in PNG would go to Australia to join them.

Citizenship in Australia led to the decision to migrate as a strategic practice, thus creating the transnational social space.

Like the old comers, some of the new comers also have strategies of migration.

The recent Chinese immigrants often go back and forth between PNG and their countries of origin.

Many Chinese new comers arrive in PNG as employees of companies, and do not necessarily come to stay permanently.

They will leave the country according to the terms of their contracts, or as a result of their own decisions.

The improvement in international transport also facilitates their frequent traveling out of and back to PNG.

Their status as transmigrant characterizes the Chinese new comers in contemporary PNG, and enhances the mobility of the Chinese community.

There are also many new comers who want to re-migrate to third countries in particular Australia, instead of going back to their countries of origin.

Some of them had intended to migrate to Australia in the first place, but came to PNG only because of its proximity to Australia; it was difficult for them to migrate to Australia directly.

Others want to re-migrate to other oceanic countries such as New Zealand and Guam.

For them, PNG is both a destination and a stepping stone for further migration.

This type of transnational re-migration is not easy to put into practice. It involves high costs and the need for a visa.

Most of the Chinese New comers cannot go to other countries as immigrants and they have to resort to strategies of settlement, if they do not wish to return to their countries of origin.

Settlement and remigration are two strategies open to them; the choice of either one is dependent on the conditions faced by the individual.

Since the colonial period, the migration pattern of Chinese in PNG has changed continuously.

Chinese society in PNG has changed from being a community of male sojourners with hopes of going back to China, to one made up of men and women with intentions to stay for various lengths of time in the country.

Intermarriage with local people, reunification with members of the family from China, and the increase of local born children made the Chinese community more settled.

However, since the eve of the independence, New socio- economic changes in PNG have made the Chinese more mobile, and once again, into sojourners.

The Chinese in PNG adopt practices of settlement without assimilating into local society, and also practices of frequent return to their original countries or re-migration to third countries.

In view of the fact that they consist of several sub-groups from various countries of origin, the contemporary PNG Chinese are made up of Chinese decedents from East and Southeast Asian countries who have different reasons to migrate.

The sojourning character of the PNG Chinese population is a consequence of these decedent’s strategic practices of settlement and migration.

It is often suggested that immigrant communities have a different character from people in the homeland because of their interactions with host societies.

Although the influence of the host society is crucial, the migrants’ experiences of the immigration and emigration processes also play an important part.

The strategic practices in selecting settlement or migration based on the individual’s circumstances have brought about the sojourning nature of the Chinese population in PNG.

One should not assume that the sojourning status of the ethnic Chinese in contemporary PNG is inherent and static.

Their hybrid and diasporic nature is molded by the environment in which they live.

The sojourning status of the ethnic Chinese of PNG should be seen as a consequence of their strategic practices.

Considering the sojourning status of the ethnic Chinese enables us to seize their ambiguous status.

To understand the dynamic nature of the sojourning status of the ethnic Chinese, it is necessary to look at the Chinese in PNG who react to domestic and transnational conditions in adopting strategic practices.

Note: This is the final series of how and why Chinese and people of Asian origin come to PNG. E-mail the writer on m_yakai@hotmail.com for queries and suggestions. This column acknowledges Tetsu Ichikawa for his contribution.

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