You are here

Talk on “Comparative Diaspora Politics: The Cases of China and India”

  • Share
  • Tweet
  • Email
  • Whatsapp
  • Linkedin
  • Print
  • August 01, 2012

    Venue: Room No 005 (Ground Floor)
    Speaker: Dr Nikola Mirilovic, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Central Florida
    Chair: Ambassador J C Sharma

    The term ‘Diaspora’ has gained tremendous currency in this age of globalization and transnational co-operation, as countries around the world devise ways to harness their extended national population living in foreign countries as strategic assets. Dr Nikola Mirilovic, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science, University of Central Florida gave a presentation on “Comparative Diaspora Politics: The Cases of China and India”. This talk was chaired by former First Secretary and Member Secretary of the High Level Committee on Indian Diaspora, Amb. J.C. Sharma.

    Dr Nikola Mirilovic’s presentation threw light on the policies of different countries with respect to engaging their diaspora across the world. The aim of his presentation was to answer the question; why do some countries institutionalize links with the Diaspora while others ignore or prosecute them? Dr. Nikola began his presentation by focussing on what constitutes a ‘Diaspora’. He defined it as “co-ethics or co-nationals who live outside the country”. To add a more nuanced approach to this definition, he analysed the term diaspora and its implications on the basis of parameters, namely:

    1. Persecution and Condemnation- when nationals of a country are compelled to reside in foreign countries owing to hostility and maltreatment in their respective home countries. These hostile home countries do not have friendly policies to connect and collaborate with their own people residing in foreign countries.
    2. Indifference- when policies of a country remain relatively inactive or dormant towards their diasporic population as they are left to their own devices.

    3. Institutionalized Political and Economic Ties- when countries are actively involved in garnering the intellectual and economic resources of their nationals living in foreign countries through the establishment of provisions like dual citizenship, facilitation of their political support via lobbying and building of other relevant organisations.

    Dr. Nikola identified three important reasons which are responsible for making the diasporic community a salient base: 1)Economic: when the diasporic community contributes by way of FDIs and remittances, 2)Political: when it plays a major role in cementing bilateral relationships and has a decisive effect in the resolution of issues related to international cooperation and conflict and 3) Cultural: when it is perceived as agents who help in the process of propagating cultural values and ideas inherent to a particular country.

    While investigating the reasons behind the existence of the parameters mentioned, Dr. Nikola used three variables to explain the manifestation of these factors which include; regime type, international economic strategy, and nationalism. Illustrating the determinant of regime-type analyses, he put forward his first hypothesis that democracy reduces the likelihood of the persecution of the diaspora and their relatives at home. The second hypothesis is related to the facilitating effect of democracy which argues that democracy multiplies the effectiveness of diaspora lobbying when the country of origin and the country of residence are both democratic. Dr Nikola opined that democracy as a regime type imparts a positive branding effect. He further illustrated this proposition with a regime time and diaspora dyad. To explain the determinant of international economic strategy, his hypotheses stated that countries that seek international economic openness are more likely to engage their diaspora than countries that seek autarky. Further, nationalists may seek diasporic engagement because they value national unity and seek to preserve their cultural values. However, he cautioned that nationalists may condemn diaspora members as traitors as well.

    Dr. Nikola argued that diaspora politics remains understudied in the realm of international political economy and security studies. There are country-level studies; however there is a lack of comparative studies on the subject. The causal logic of democratic peace theory is missing and the concept of “Economic Nationalism” also remains misunderstood. Dr. Nikola argued that his research has looked at these gaps by having been focussed on the variations using cross-national and cross-temporal analyses from the period beginning in the 1940s to the present day.

    Dr Nikola highlighted the key turning points in China and India’s Diaspora engagement through the prism of regime-type variation. With reference to India, in the post-independence scenario, Indian officials had de-emphasized diaspora engagement but at the same time there were instances of nationalist organisations building ties with the Diaspora in a sporadic way. The turning point for the Indian Diaspora community came in the 1990s with the ushering in of economic reforms and Diaspora courting by a BJP-led government. From there on, there was further institutionalization of Diaspora engagement with the passage of PIO card (1991), creation of the MOIA (2004) and so on.

    With respect to China, there was limited Diaspora out-reach in the early PRC period. The first turning point for the Chinese diasporic community came during the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), when Diaspora outreach activities were suspended leading to the condemnation of the Diaspora community (mostly perceived as capitalists) and the persecution of their relatives at home. The second turning point came in the 1970s with the introduction of economic reforms. This was followed up with the institutionalization of diasporic engagement through the formation of the Office of Overseas Chinese Affairs, Office of the State Council (1978) and the National Congress of the Returned Overseas Chinese and their relatives.

    Dr Nikola further asked if democratic dyads allow the Diaspora to play a more important role in their host country. To answer this question, he predicates his research on the diasporic community residing in the U.S, where both the Indian and Chinese Diaspora are relatively more educated and wealthy than average Americans. But because India is a democracy, sharing the same political values as America, Indian Americans are more likely to emerge as a “political powerhouse” than the Chinese Americans. The growing political influence of Indian Americans is reflected in the fact that India constitutes the largest Congressional Caucus because of the positive branding effect of democracy. India has a far greater number of India-US business councils than its Chinese counterparts. In conclusion, the speaker reaffirmed the salience of his key determinants in measuring the variations of different countries towards Diaspora engagement. He ended on the note that Diaspora engagement for international cooperation and conflict is only more likely to grow.

    Discussion and Questions and Answers:

    • The first question primarily inquired about ways to tackle nuances in the definitional aspects of Diaspora, especially when one has to factor issues like the drawing of colonial boundaries (with particular reference to the community of Kurds), historical processes of migration, its nature and how it affects identity issues. Dr Nikola conceded that any objective outlining of the definition of Diaspora is well-nigh impossible, although certain objective traits can be looked at.
    • On the question with regard to Chinese Diaspora in Southeast Asia, Dr. Nikola referred to his democracy dyad. According to him, the Chinese were politically marginalized because of their origin from an essentially authoritarian state which believes in the ideology of Chinese unification. He pointed out that there is a gap between the official discourse and practice of the Chinese government where officially they extol assimilation with the host countries of the Diaspora, but in practice they still adhere to their ideology of reunification. Therefore the Chinese Diaspora usually tends to be successful economically but politically, their relationship with the host countries always remain complicated. However Singapore is an exception in Southeast Asia, where the Chinese Diaspora is more harmoniously active, politically as well as economically.
    • There was also felt a need to contextualize the comparison of policies of China and India with respect to their Diaspora engagement.
    • Suggestions were made to the author to include the policy of Indian government towards people of Indian origin and Indians settled abroad (NRIs) and how it has differed over the years.
    • Recommendations for further research questions included a study of the attitude of the Diaspora community towards knowledge transfers, having taken into account the fact that China has benefited immensely from transfer of knowledge by overseas Chinese.

    Prepared by Ms. Sneha Bhura, Intern at IDSA, New Delhi