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The Question of Diaspora in International Relations

<A case study of Chinese diaspora in Malaysia and South-East Asia>

Sek Pei LIM

Dissertation, MA In International Relations,

University of Sussex

Part 2: Chapter 2

Chapter 1 * Chapter 3 * Chapter 4(a)  Chapter 4 (b) * Chapter 5 * References

Diaspora ¡V Old Issue, New connotation


1.1 Introduction


The term of ¡§diaspora¡¨ has evolved into different meanings and usages since its introductory stages to present time. It is essential to clarify what and how to employ its meaning in different way to identify the issues that should be raise in IPE, before continuing with the rest of the research. In this chapter, l will attempt to investigate the originated usage of the term Diaspora in comparison with dictionary and scholars¡¦ explanation, and ponder on whether we are all diaspora by tracing back our ascendant to their homeland.


The diversity of the usage of diaspora lead to the evolution from dispersion diaspora to trade diaspora and worker/migrant diaspora, terminoloies used in the present transnational movement study. Hence, could the displacement activities be applied the universal usage as an element of Transnationalization or Internationalisation? Kant has spoken of the cosmopolitanism idea to transform the global world into one. Globalisation will be a noteworthy issue to be taken as a part of my discussion in this chapter, which emphasizes the transnationalizaton of the universal world to a state of border-less and distant-less. The contribution of diasporic activities in its liberalised state will serve as the vital transmission belt to spur globalisation. 


Are there any relevance issues of diaspora in the transnational movements and what kind of questions will emerge in IR? One such issue can be raised by examining the saying in diasporic literature that ¡¥Home is where the heart is¡¦. In this case, what would nationalism means for the diapora communities? Where would their loyalty lie?


1.2      Definition of Diaspora


A prudent way to start off a topic of investigation is to understand and evaluate-in- depth the actual meanings of one¡¦s research constituent keywords. In my case, the most prominent one will be the term Diaspora. This is a word most familiar to historians investigating the Jewish community, not surprising therefore for us to find direct ascendant of this term in the history of Jewish dispersion. Let me start with the mainstream definitions.


Encarta World English Dictionary [1999-2000] provided us with two meanings of the word diaspora. A capitalised Diaspora is defined as:


exile of the Jews from Israel:  the dispersion of the Jews from Palestine following the Babylonians' conquest of the Judean Kingdom in the 6th century BC and again following the Romans' destruction of the Second Temple in AD 70. Also called Dispersion
Jews living outside Israel:  the Jewish communities living outside either the present-day state of Israel or the ancient biblical kingdom of Israel.


A non-capitalised diaspora, on the other hand is defined as scattering of language, culture, or people:  a dispersion of a people, language, or culture that was formerly concentrated in one place.


Straight away, the definitions provoke what I will say as a paradox in the used of the term diaspora, which I have some difficulty with at the early stages. The first definition, I will call it the historical definition, a term exclusively used for Jewish exiles, scattered all around the world, initially stateless. A slightly modernised term then will preclude the stateless condition when Israel was formed, so it is used for Jewish groups of people living outside of Israel, thus exclusively used for Jews.


The second liberalised use of diaspora is for people of any culture who have dispersed from a former concentration, with their own cultures and languages. This definition is in fact near the opposite end of the spectrum of definitions for diaspora over the years.  In between, existed definitions for diaspora which are more or less restrictive then the historical context while less liberal then the latter definitions, the form being used subjected to individuals taste and field of research.


Mudimbe [1999: 96] introduced a number meanings of ¡§Diaspora¡¨ as below: firstly, as the scattering of the Jews to countries outside of Palestine after Babylonian captivity (597-338BCE); secondly, refers to those Jews who live outside of Palestine, or modern-day Israel; and thirdly collectively applied to all such countries outside of Palestine where Jews live, indicates the desire to return to Israel or Palestine.


In Faist [2000]¡¦s work, he categorised diaspora as an examples of a ¡¥transnational communities¡¦, having the characteristic of ¡¥Mobilization of collective representations within (abstract) symbolic ties: religion, nationality ethnicity¡¦.[1] This transnational community is a community ¡¥¡K without propinquity link through reciprocity and solidarity to achieve a high degree of social cohesion, and a common repertoire of symbolic and collective representations¡¦[2]. However Faist then proceed to narrow down the usage of diaspora to people who have undergone traumatic experiences and yearn to return to their lost homeland. He compared the Jewish Diaspora before the establishment of the state of Israel with other communities such as the Chinese global communities. The earlier, he claimed is another form of transnational communities, which are inappropriate to be termed as Diaspora and an agreement with Mudimbe in the historical context for the term Diaspora. 


By comparing these definitions, we can see here a similar form of diaspora to our historical. However there is the added conditions of ¡§the desire to return¡¨ to their homeland.  This in fact is an ultra limited version of the definitions. With Jews now having their own state, Jews community who are desperate to return to Israel are not refrain from doing it. So by choosing not to return by remain in host countries for example, would that exclude them from being labelled as diaspora? Thus, the diaspora as defined by in this would now cease to exist? 

Here however, I would prefer for the term of diaspora to be used as a general Transnational communities used by Faist. On the more liberal side, Tambiah [2000] attributed the origin of diasporic communities to two different sources.


Voluntary migration of groups of peoples, mostly with useful occupational skills in search of betters economic opportunities and standard of life elsewhere.
Involuntary displacement of people running away from political turmoil and wars, or refuge from natural disaster in their country.  They are mostly known as refugees and asylum seekers which although with exception, are considered more of a burden in temporary term to the host nation.


Diaspora is then the term created to name the communities of emigrants who live abroad in host countries but maintain economic, politic and emotional ties with their homelands. The loyalty of these transnational social communities to the sojourner countries are usually under suspicions[3], even thought they have full membership status with associated rights and duties.


To aid in the redefinition of ¡§Diaspora¡¨ and reconceptualising the world society to the communities who was not aboriginal or indigenous in the country they are staying, or even born, I took refuge with what Professor Anthony Reid [1999] pointed: ¡§The extraordinary mobility of populations in globalising world, together with the core of instant communications around that world, have given a new urgency on a very old phenomenon ¡V a spatially dispersed minority which nevertheless feels some kinship or has that kinship thrust upon it by a hostile environment.¡¨ Then, the divisions based on group identities such as cultural, ethnic, religious and nationality have assumed a new complex issues in IR.


The above have the implications as what some scholars[4] emphasized: ¡§ Diasporas as constellations of cultural and political actions, as projects rather than congealed totalities, thus confers an epistemological dimension upon the praxis than identity.¡¨ Diasporas constitute constellations of political action that tend to modify the internal and external hierarchies of countries as well as their historicities in the contemporary context of decolonisation and cultural diversity.


A modern liberal meaning of diaspora is therefore one I should employ here in the context of the study of International Relations.


Diasporas are the of transnational groups of emigrants living abroad in host countries but maintained economic, political, social and emotional ties with their homeland and with other diasporic communities of same origin.

1.3      Are we all diaspora?


Many scholars[5] argued that: ¡§We are all migrants¡¨ in historical sense. This is deriving from the facts that ours ancestors have all travelled to the places where we have come from, which were through the overseas and transnational business communities spawned by world trading systems since the early modern European colonial enterprises period. Then, we all are the offspring of ¡§trade diaspora.¡¨


Some scholars[6] traced the history of migrations and linkage displacement such as the overseas and transnational business communities to ¡§trade diasporas¡¨, and demarcate it from the Jewish Diaspora of the religious or cultural form. Therefore transnational movements such as the travellers, traders, slavers, and missionaries which were involved in transnational spaces were to be the reconceptualized as ¡§diaspora¡¨, and most of our ancestors were categorised as migrations under this experience. Even if we are the nationals of the country where we were born, the reconceptulisation of diasporas have deemed that we will sought to sustain and maintain the close emotional tie with the fate of the homeland, and also trying to influence it politically and economically.


The new situation of identity for transnational communities, which permeated around the global world, underpinned the neoliberal views in creating increased mutual or overlapping state interests where the utopian peace will be approached and conflict within state and nation will ceased.  Conversely, the label ¡§diaspora¡¨ will collide with its very meaning and entangled the tension with the autochthonous origins, though the ¡§diaspora¡¨ have lost their identity as an outcome from assimilation or self-sufficiency, or intermarriages.



1.4      What globalisation means to human integration?


¡§Economic and technological forces all over the globe are compelling the world toward integration while ethnic and religious tensions tear nations apart.¡¨

Bill Clinton[7] US President, 1993


The continuing progresses in technological advances particularly in the communication and transportation issues have made the world smaller and making globalisation a more meaningful term. Globalisation is still the buzzword of the day.

The scenarios about the future world order that globalization will help to create has been proposed over and again, with US, as usual trying to lead the way. Some observers believe that the benefits of globalization are for economic well-being; others claim that its unevenness and the prospects for marginalizing large numbers of peoples and states are the  more significant downsides. Does globalization involve a trend toward human integration? Perhaps it is a long-term, uneven and paradoxical idea in which widening social cooperation and deepening inequality go together. And are we there yet? Are we likely?


Let us examine the definition of globalization provided by Martin Albrow[8][1990]: ¡§Globalization refers to all those processes by which the peoples of the world are incorporated into a single world society, global society.¡¨ The conflict between nations and states as Clinton pointed that as above in the world politics are supposed to be dissolved.  Obviously the world is still in a stage where nation-states, races and cultures still matters a lot.  Samuel Huntington¡¦s [1996][9] has a controversial thesis that in the twenty-first century the globe¡¦s major civilizations will conflict with one another, leading to anarchy and warfare similar to that resulting from conflicts between states over the past six thousands years. In his view, the main fault line dividing the globe and the chief source of international conflict ¡§will not be primarily ideological or economic,¡¨ but rather cultural, between ¡§nations and groups of different civilizations.¡¨


Throughout the world¡¦s history, when distinct cultures have come into contact, either that the collisions have sparked communication and a healthy respect for diversity, or familiarity has bred contempt. Since the fading of the Cold War¡¦s divisive ideological contest between communist and capitalism has been replaced by the reappearance of another kind of major divisive conflict ¡V cultural cleavages and hatreds. We can look at Middle East and Bosnia for example. World integration is not forthcoming.


Even though the influx of immigrants largely originated from prehistoric period, it has not really evolved into one  ¡§melting pot¡¨.  Burton[1972]¡¦s view is that this world shall always comprises of smaller societies such as states, nations, and local communities, and even smaller social groups such as business organizations, schools and families.


He pointed that: ¡§World society will never be an integrated whole even in the absence of all restraints on communications. One reason is an administrative one: effective decentralization of decision-making that gives people a sense for participant, and which takes account of local conditions, will increase with the passage of time and not decrease. Another reason is a psychological one. People have a need to identify with others; first the family and kinship group, then wider social groups, then the nation and the state. Very few people are able to identify with world society.¡¨[10]


Indeed, the different social groups have their different ideology, cultural or ethnicity; it will hardly be plausible to bring them to live harmoniously together within any one administrative unit except in those cases in which there are strong majorities and weak minorities, or in which one can effectively coerce and control the others. By giving due consideration of this conceptualising reality, the historical importance of migration and diasporas cannot be underestimated.


Clifford[11] suggested that there is no single model in which diasporas exist and are defined in their individuality and diversity, as the term has been continuously adapted to new situations, for example, to the Chinese diasporas. Diasporas are shaped in specific mappings and histories: in memories and practices of collective identity over long stretches of time.


Taking a historical point of view, globalization and migration are twin subjects. Pieterse [2000] has described how many of the achievements claimed by individual nations had in fact in significant extent been the work of travellers ¡V traders, migrants, slavers, pilgrims and missionaries. Thus the world of the transnational movements has all along been interspersed with a world of diasporas. Presently, borderline act as the grid of the nation state to identify and superimposed upon a deeper stratum of human migrations and diasporas. From the narrow point of nation-state, diaspora implies the question on political rights and constraints (citizenship and human rights), or in a cost benefit analysis of the nation; from a cultural point of view, it is one of identity-multi-culturalism.


There are no questions that migration of peoples in this century is a significant event. A 1995 UN report claimed that international migration has been the demographic process most clearly affected by the changes in political map.[12] Migration of people is a big issues everywhere, with Europe and North America hosting the largest concentration of immigrants, 23 millions and 20 millions respectively.[13] These huge immigrants population have profound effects on the national politics of the host nation as well as their home nations. 


The paradox of contemporary globalization is the free movement of capital while restricting the movement of people and labour. In the era of regionalization, crossborder intercultural relations build social and institutional tissue that is vital to present and future economic performance. Moreover, ethnic economies may interweave economic regions spatially (as the case of the Chinese diasporas in the Pacific Region), while interethnic economies weave institutional links across segmented social formations.


Faist [2000] considers the Transnational movement tandem by the mechanisms operative in transnationalization: reciprocity in small groups, exchange in circuits and solidarity in communities. In this network, remittances flowing in transnational families between first-generation migrants within reciprocally organized households are phenomenon quite different from centuries old Diaspora communities that span part of the globe such as the Jewish Diaspora, Chinese, Lebanese or Indian business people.


Since the end of the Second World War, the paradoxes of citizenship of diasporas have had been prevalent in those decolonised countries. Many of them, especially the following generations might have been assimilated and integrated, and as outcomes from the intermarriagse, they feel themselves to be ¡§overseas orphan¡¨ when the discrimination policies come into effect.


1.5      Conclusion


¡§HOME is where the heart is?¡¨


The experiences of diasporas have complex relations with the history of colonialism. Docker [1999] described that since the tumultuous events of 1492, European colonists have explored the new era of the history.  Wherever they go in the world and despite themselves being as a victims of colonial contempt and violence, they were not aliens or outsiders from distant continents but the immediate rightful settlers at their new home. Thereafter, people whom the new settlers sees as aliens or outsiders can immediately be designated so and might experience racist hostility, disdain and contempt from a majority society. In the history of settler-colonies, diasporic communities, whether European or Asian are migrants in a more general sense just like the migrants of the majority society, and are colonised and perceived by the colonised as another set of invaders as fellow subjects of racism, creating commonalities and attraction of outsiders to fellow outsiders.


So, the questions of diaspora have different meanings for different actors and issues. They are the combination of emigrant¡¦s rights and loyalties, of globalisation and states boundaries, of domestic and international politics and one of cultural and identity. However, since diaspora is a Transnational issue, its relevance in IR cannot be understated. Analysis by Tambiah [2000] for example shows the nature of relationships and the three forms of consciousness regarding their existential circumstantial to be one vertical and two laterals, all that has profound implication for international relations in general. The vertical relations involved participation in the host country to improve and impact their host nation. In this form of relationship, the diaspora actively participates in the socio-economy-politic of the country and thus becoming an important electoral and economical force in the host state.  By virtue of the importance of domestic politics to IR (to be discuss in later chapters), this will affect the IR of the countries involved. 


The first lateral network involved maintaining, reinforcing, and extending relationships with immigrants¡¦ communities of origin. The activities under this category are like sending remittances, marriage, sponsoring of home festivities events etc. This causes the existence of ¡§direct participation in effervescent, effectively charged ethnonationalist movements, religious revivals, and fundamentalist cases that are erupting in migrants¡¦ home countries¡¨[14]- nationalism at a distance. Without questions, such influence has significant effect on the relations between the nations hosting the diaspora and the home nations.


The second lateral network is the Lateral Transnational Global Networks. Tambiah [2000:171] define the relationship as one of global proportion not only two-way between the Host State and Home State, but also between all the other diasporic locations in the world. These people are then interconnected with one another, crossing boundaries of states and geography, giving them the ability and incentive ¡§to circulate between the sites, to exchange money, goods, and information, and to conclude marriage contracts and exchanges¡¨. Given the wider distributed effects it possesses over the first lateral network, one can only assume that the IR complicity it implies can only be more profound.


I will now delve further into the issues of Chinese Diaspora in particular by constructing as a case study the diasporic issues of Chinese and China.  Diasporas Chinese whom had been labelled as ¡§The Jews of the East¡¨ in Southeast Asia, have undergone critical circumstances since the decolonisation era. It is significant to look back at the historical background of diasporas Chinese in Southeast Asia, the relations between Mainland China (CCP) and Taiwan (KMT) when the divergence was becoming more obvious. What are the diasporic connection between the South East Asia Chinese diaspora and their motherland? Do they still consider themselves a part of the wider overseas Chinese network? Do they have any domestic influence in their host states, diplomatically and economically?


[1] Transnational communities is a form of transnational social spaces; the two other types mentioned in Faist paper are transnational kinship groups and transnational circuits.

[2] Faist [2000:196]

[3] As in recent Los Alamos scandal involving Lee Wen Ho, ex. Taiwanese U.S. citizen suspected of passing nuclear secret to China.

[4]Mudimbe and Engel (eds), [1999: 1-8]

[5] Ibid; Pieterse [2000], Faist [2000], Tambiah [2000]

[6] See Surin, Kenneth[1999: 275-278 ]

[7] World Politics Trend and Transformation. [1999: 174]

[8] Cited in Baylis and Smith (eds)[1999: 15]

[9] He noted that the coming clash of civilizations will be between and among seven or eight major civilizations (Western, Confucian, Japanese, Islamic, Hindu, Slavic-orthodox, Latin American, and possibly African), as well as less influential ones such a poorly integrated Afro-Caribbean tradition.

[10] Burton [1972: 33]

[11] Cited in Docker, John [1999]

[12] Cited in Tambiah [2000]

[13] Tambiah [2000]

[14] Tambiah [2000:171]



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