An article in Japan’s The Diplomat magazine on February 2; Original title: What Can India and China Learn From Each Other About Diaspora Policy? With approximately 15.6 million Indians and 9.5 million Chinese abroad, the nations boast two of the world’s largest diasporas. They also share many aspirations and challenges in their policies toward them: both want to benefit from their compatriots’ success abroad, but struggle with a lack of dual citizenship and quality of life issues that could deter potential returnees.
But despite these similarities, the two nations engage their diasporas in different manners. For China, the relationship has been all about bringing capital and individuals back to promote national economic development. For India, meanwhile, the relationship centers on the diaspora’s role as a source of soft power and expertise even if members remain abroad.
Nowhere is this difference more visible than in the styles through which Indian and Chinese leaders interact with their diasporas. Chinese leaders rarely meet with overseas Chinese groups during international trips and favor official domestic events such as the World Huaqiao Huaren Businessmen and Industrialists Conference. These meetings of besuited entrepreneurs in the Great Hall of the People are a world away from Modi’s international speeches, where he addresses non-resident Indians on their home turf. New Delhi hope that diaspora members can act as “informal ambassadors for India in their own country,” demonstrating the value of ties with India to foreign governments.
The economic role of the diaspora also varies starkly between the two nations. The Chinese government has historically focused on overseas Chinese communities as a source of foreign direct investment (FDI). For decades, China has both received more overall FDI than India and a larger share of investment from members of its diaspora. During the 1990s and 2000s, the Chinese diaspora contributed an estimated 50 to 70 percent of FDI, while the Indian diaspora contributed just 3 to 4 percent. In addition to investment, the Chinese government has also actively recruited academics and entrepreneurs to return to support economic growth and innovation.
In part, China was able to attract so much investment because many overseas Chinese resided nearby Southeast Asia, but the government also actively courted their support. Meanwhile, overseas Indian populations were both more geographically and politically distant, making them less able to influence the FDI policy. Now, however, the Modi government is hoping the Indian diaspora can mimic the Chinese example.
While China works to entice returnees, India excels at maintaining diaspora ties and making use of those connections at home. For example, Indian engineers and tech entrepreneurs working outside the country can share knowledge rapidly with firms in India, and these relationships have helped build the country’s large IT industry.
The Indian government has also gone father than China in easing travel and residency policies for diaspora members, and has already introduced documents like Overseas Citizen of India (OCI) card, so that many diaspora members can now enjoy certain educational and financial benefits comparable to those of citizens.
Ultimately, the two nations’ different diaspora strategies may stem from their different systems of government. Even as the Indian government eyes the Chinese model of using the diaspora as a source of FDI and skilled returnees, officials shouldn’t lose sight of the current model’s strengths in promoting soft power and knowledge circulation. ▲
(Author: Rachel Brown; Translated by: Qiao Heng)