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China News Service
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Overseas Chinese: Driving China's Modernization

An exclusive interview with Li Qirong

The 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China has put forth a proposal to advance the nation's rejuvenation through a uniquely Chinese approach to modernization. A pivotal role in driving this path of Chinese modernization is played by overseas Chinese. Yet why do overseas Chinese hold such significant value as an asset in China's modernization efforts? Moreover, what specific advantages do they bring to this developmental course? Addressing these queries, Li Qirong, who is a Professor at the Center for International Migration and Overseas Chinese Research within Central China Normal University, and further serves as the Director of the Wuhan Base for Theoretical Research on Overseas Chinese Affairs, recently engaged in an exclusive interview with the China News Service's East Meets West program.

China News Service Reporter: Why are overseas Chinese contributors to the Chinese path to modernization?

Li Qirong: The theory on Chinese path to modernization is an essential theoretical breakthrough in the 20th National Congress of the Communist Party of China, including both common features of global modernization path and the Chinese characteristics based on our own realities. Overseas Chinese are contributors to the Chinese path to modernization in three major aspects. Firstly, overseas Chinese businessmen are main players in promoting Chinese-foreign trade ties since they are familiar with the trade, development model and investment of host countries while having a strong natural bond with the home country and communication skills. Secondly, overseas Chinese always love their homeland and have a great patriotism mindset. They play a positive role in prospering local economy, restructuring local industry and developing cultural and public undertakings. Finally, many Chinese students studying abroad return to China, enriching the talent base in all industries. Their knowledge, skills and experience bring new vitality to China’s economic development.

In May 2023, the 10th Conference for Friendship of Overseas Chinese Associations was held in Beijing.  Photo by Han Haidan.

China News Service Reporter: What are the changes in overseas Chinese affairs in recent years? What are their unique advantages in promoting the Chinese path to modernization?

Li Qirong: There are many changes in overseas Chinese affairs in recent years, reflected by more overseas Chinese societies, increasingly globalized network, and more consensus on building and promoting harmonious overseas Chinese societies. As overseas Chinese’s personal quality and economic power strengthens, their social status has been promoted. Their political awareness has also been enhanced.

Overseas Chinese have multiple advantages such as broad business networks, strong economic base and connections between China and the world. Understanding new trends in overseas Chinese affairs and identifying different demands for overseas Chinese are useful to leverage them as the bridge, so that overseas Chinese will be a valuable asset in promoting the Chinese path to modernization. For example, brave people from Wenzhou, which is home to the most overseas Chinese in Zhejiang province, started their global business with razor, scissor and cleaver. Since the reform and opening up, they have been expanding their development space and strengthening their economic power. While building their identity as the "golden brand" of Wenzhou merchants, they are also deeply rooted in their hometown, "building a bridge through overseas Chinese" to feed back to their hometown and promote internal and external communication.

Five hundred members of USA Wenzhou General Chamber of Commerce gathered to together. The lion dancing performance adds the joyful atmosphere.  Photo by Lu Wei​.

China News Service Reporter: This year marks the 30th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. What roles do overseas Chinese play in the Belt and Road initiative?

Li Qirong: The collaborative realization of the "Belt and Road Initiative" has transformed into a universally beneficial global asset and a widely embraced international platform for cooperation. Overseas Chinese consistently assume proactive roles on the forefront of the "Belt and Road Initiative," fostering harmonious interactions with foreign nations. They witnessed, participated, and benefited from this process.

Of 60 million overseas Chinese, 40 million live in ‘Belt and Road Initiative’ countries. They have been living overseas for a long time. They are proficient in local languages and active in the local economy, politics, society, and culture. In addition, more than 70% of overseas Chinese are doing business, contributing to the economic development of host countries after years of hard work.

People-to-people exchange is one of the major parts of the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’. It also lays the social and public foundation of high quality development of such initiative. Since overseas Chinese lived in Chinese and foreign social background, they understand both Chinese and foreign language, culture, conditions and customs. Therefore, they possess unique advantage in promoting exchanges between China and foreign civilizations. In the future, we should focus more on new challenges faced by overseas Chinese when engaging in the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, respond to their requests and encourage more overseas Chinese enjoying the shared development opportunities to promote the development of the "Belt and Road" to go deeper and more solid in international cooperation and interaction.

On October 2022, the 2nd Belt and Road Initiative Overseas Chinese Business and Community Leaders Exchange and Cooperation Conference was held in Nanning, Guangxi Province. Photo by Liao Zhangli.

China News Service Reporter: How can we fully leverage the asset and wisdom from overseas Chinese in the new era? What will be the focus in future policies on overseas Chinese?

Li Qirong: Skilled professionals are key elements of developing the modern socialist country. New generations of overseas Chinese are essential sources of high-level skill professional teams. Most of them have high level of international education background with an international outlook, knowledge of international rules and cross-cultural communication skills. In recent years, improvements have been made in innovation and entrepreneurship environment. Hometowns of overseas Chinese across China introduce many policies to attract overseas Chinese investment and wisdom. More than 15 provinces establish 17 business clusters dedicated to overseas Chinese. Dozens of overseas Chinese business clusters, innovation and entrepreneurship bases emerge.

Overseas Chinese have closer and broader connection with China. They contributed to the development of their country and hometown in different ways. In order to adapt to changes in overseas Chinese affairs, it is necessary to improve and refine the policies, laws and regulations on attracting skilled professionals, wisdom and the capital, advance the protection of the rights and interests of overseas Chinese and promote the integration of the development of overseas Chinese and overseas Chinese undertakings with major national strategies.

Overseas Chinese innovation and entrepreneurship business clusters is located in Changsha high-tech area. Employees from the overseas Chinese company Sinocare work in the workshop. Photo by Yang Huafeng.

China News Service Reporter: What is the significance of strengthening cultural identity among new generation of overseas Chinese to promote a Chinese path to modernization?

Li Qirong: Relationship between China and Overseas Chinese can be summarized to three words, ‘root, soul and dream.’ Overseas Chinese are locating all around the world. Its language, behavior, custom, etiquette, costume culture, and business activities directly influence foreign people's understanding of Chinese culture. Although there are generational and regional differences, overseas Chinese are still engaged in the Chinese path to modernization, which is originated from the identity and pride of the Chinese nation.

In order to help the youth to enhance the understanding of the China and Chinese culture, Chinese Cultural Immersion Youth Summer/Winter Camps, Chinese Cultural Camp and other cultural experience activities need to constantly innovate and explore all types of courses. ‘Happy Spring Festival’, ‘Cultural China’, ‘Love China’ and a series of branding activities still need to promote Chinese culture abroad, so that the youth can sense the Chinese culture while narrowing the psychological distance with their country and hometown.

Participants of the Chinese Cultural Immersion Youth Summer/Winter Camps were experiencing Beijing Opera at Linggong association in Nantong, Jiangsu province. Photo by Zhai Huiyong.

‘Ancestral memory’ is the basis for the sense of identity with ancestor and home country among new generations of overseas Chinese. It exists in the form of traditional social structure, interpersonal network of kinship, blood and geography. It connects the love of family and country by osmosis. Today, more and more new generations of overseas Chinese support the development of China through societies by safeguarding peace and unity, contributing to the rejuvenation of Chinese nation.

Guest Profile:

Li Qirong, serving as the Director of the Center for International Migration and Overseas Chinese Research at Central China Normal University, holds the prestigious role of heading the Wuhan Base for Theoretical Research on Overseas Chinese Affairs, which operates under the purview of the State Council’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office. His academic journey has encompassed visits, research endeavors, and educational lectures at esteemed institutions such as Harvard University, the University of British Columbia, the University of Edinburgh, the National University of Singapore, and Nanyang Technological University. Notably, he has undertaken the stewardship of numerous research initiatives commissioned by the Chinese government, the Ministry of Education, and the State Council’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, which have culminated in recognitions from entities including the Ministry of Education, the State Council’s Overseas Chinese Affairs Office, Hubei Province, and Wuhan City. Among his notable literary contributions are seminal works such as "International Migration and Overseas Chinese Studies," "Sequel of International Migration and Overseas Chinese Studies," and "International Migration and Overseas Chinese Studies Vol.3."

China News ServiceKailun Sui

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