Opportunistic Transnationalism: The New Generation of Malaysian Chinese Entrepreneurs Amidst a Rising China

A/Prof Na Ren2

2Jinan University, Guangzhou, China

With the ongoing generational change, the backbone of ethnic Chinese society in Southeast Asia has been mostly made of a new generation of immigrants’ descendants who were born and grown up in their host land. Under the transnational framework of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) launched by China in 2013, ethnic Chinese, as a major economic workforce in Southeast Asia, have been confronted with both business opportunities and complex challenges. How does the new generation respond to the multiple transnational forces initiated from the BRI? How does their transnationalism with China interact with their national identity with the host countries? Through a case study on Chinese diasporas’ institutional involvement in transnational Chinese business organizations in Malaysia, this paper argues that the new-generation entrepreneurs have built opportunistic transnationalism. The construction of their networks with China has become an arena where the entrepreneurs try to seize potential business opportunities from the BRI by taking advantage of their ethnic and cultural ties with China, and simultaneously reinforce their national identity with Malaysia. To fully understand the construction of the new generation’s transnationalism, this paper discerns three patterns of transnationalism: proactive, reactive and passive.


Na Ren is an Associate Professor in the School of International Relations (Academy of Overseas Chinese Studies) at Jinan University, China. Her research interests are overseas Chinese studies, including Southeast Asian Chinese society, transnational Chinese migrants and globalization of China, and overseas Chinese business networks.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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