Chinese Muslims’ Transnationalism and Development in Southeast Asia: Transnational Business Network and Post-Chineseness

A/Prof Yun Zhang2

2Jinan University, Guangzhou, China

The Southeast Asia-based Chinese Muslims constitute a special transnational population group, with an imagined homeland characterized by the interaction of nation-state and non-territorial ethnicity and religion. While Chinese Muslims share common Islamic identity with the local people, they maintain transnational linkages with China, other Chinese diasporic groups, and non-territorial religious groups, especially through business networks, to maximize their development opportunities. Drawing on empirical studies in Surabaya and Kuala Lumpur, this paper examines the transnationalism and development embodied by Southeast Asia-based Chinese Muslims in a post-colonialism context. It explicitly addresses how Chinese Muslims produce and maintain transnational linkages, with their home country – China – such as via the Association of Chinese Entrepreneurs, and with their non-territorial religious ‘homeland’ such as via Islamic chambers of commerce and al-Bank al-Islami. This study finds that Chinese Muslims who hold multiple identities – citizens of the Southeast Asian countries overlapped with transnational identity towards China and Muslim religion – have developed unique development-oriented transnationalism. This not only facilitates their integration to the local society but also significantly influences economic and socio-cultural structures in Southeast Asia through diffusing the “post-Chineseness” that inherits clan concept, life values and working spirits from Chinese tradition.


Yun Zhang holds a PhD in Political Science. He is an Associate Professor in School of International Studies (Academy of Overseas Chinese Studies) at Jinan University and an editorial board member of Journal of Southeast Asian Studies. His research includes Southeast Asia studies, international society theory and overseas Chinese studies.

An Anthropological Analysis of Revitalizing Chinese Business and Economy in Cambodia Post-Khmer Rouge from a Transnational Perspective

A/Prof Yang Luo3

3The China Institute of Chinese Overseas Studies, Beijing, China

Transnational studies on the migration-development nexus have focused on how diasporas shape development of homelands but paid little attention to the impacts of transnational linkages on destination countries. Drawing upon a case study of Cambodia-based Chinese businessmen, this study explores how transnational linkages maintained by Chinese diasporas shape the social and economic structure of Cambodia. The paper proposes an “intermediary sphere” model for understanding Cambodia-based Chinese businessmen’s role in shaping development in the destination from a transnational perspective. The study finds that Chinese businessmen have promoted two transformations in the Cambodian history by enabling Cambodian economic transformation that shifted from relying on agriculture to thriving on maritime trade, and by facilitating the adaptation of the Western incomers to the local labour markets during the French protectorate period. After the tumult of the 1970s and 1980s, Chinese entrepreneurship played a significant role in another two forms of transformations. First, Chinese businessmen established a “regional trading system”, integrating the Cambodian economy into the wider world economic system. Second, they developed “land economy” that facilitated the outsiders’ adaptation to local economic system. The “intermediary sphere” model is proven effective to understand the embeddedness of Chineseness in shaping the culture and society of Cambodia.


Yang Luo is an Associate Professor at the China Institute of Chinese Overseas Studies. Her research focuses on theories and methodologies of social anthropology, religions in Southeast Asia and overseas Chinese community.

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.

Overseas Chinese’s Engagement in Beijing’s Soft Power Program: Dynamics, Institutions and Transnational Outcomes

A/Prof Ying Zhou2

2Jinan University, Guangzhou, China

China has established the global network of Confucius Institutes (CI) and the extension form of Confucius Classroom to promote language and culture in an effect to enhance national soft power and create a more positive attitude toward China. Yet the overseas Chinese’s extensive participation in establishing and operating oversea CIs has been literately ignored by existing studies. That is prominently demonstrated in Southeast Asian countries. Why do the oversea Chinese actively engage with this government-sponsored soft power program? How do they engage? What are the transnational outcomes of their engagement in CIs and the implication for China’s foreign relations? This article drew on the theory of agent and the concept of soft power in international relations to reveal the role of overseas Chinese, one of the multiple types of agents that embody Chinese culture within soft power projects. Based on case studies in Thailand, Indonesia and Philippine, this article argues that the overseas Chinese’s engagement in CIs produced complex results and even contradictory goals and effects for China’s soft power.


Ying Zhou is an Associate Professor in the School of International Studies (Academy of Overseas Chinese Studies) at Jinan University, China. Her research focuses on Confucius Institute, public diplomacy, soft power, and international relations in East Asia.

Chinese Diaspora and Development in Asia: A Transnational Perspective

A/Prof Yan Tan1, A/Prof Ying Zhou2, A/Prof Na Ren2, A/Prof Yang Luo3, A/Prof Yun Zhang2

1The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia, 2Jinan University, Guangzhou, China, 3The China Institute of Chinese Overseas Studies, Beijing, China

Chair: Yan Tan


It is estimated that the Chinese diaspora amounted to 60 million in 2018, most of whom reside in Asia. China is undergoing profound demographic, economic, and social transitions, which in turn have reshaped its development interest. In tandem with these transitions, the role of Chinese diaspora is being transformed, evolving towards an active transnational actor who influences development outcomes in both countries of origin and destination, through sustaining domestic economic and socio-cultural development and enhancing soft power on the global stage. Bringing the concept of transnationalism to the studies on Chinese diaspora and drawing on empirical studies in Asian countries, this panel rethinks complex transnational linkages constructed by Chinese diasporas and dynamic approaches to engaging Chinese diasporas for development under the changing global, regional and national contexts. Enhanced understandings of Chinese diasporas and their impacts on development have significant implications for diaspora engagement policies and programs in China and other parts of Asia.

Is the River Chief System the Ultimate Solution to China’s Water Governance Problems?

Professor Mark Wang1

1University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

The recently introduced River Chief system is expected to fix the so-called “nine dragons ruling the waters” issue, a reference to the tangle of diffuse and unclear responsibilities for managing different aspects of China’s environment and policies. Over 760,000 village level river chiefs and another 300,000 at the township, county and provincial levels have been named river chiefs. This is perhaps the world’s largest water manager group. Can they dramatically improve the quality and integrity of China’s water resources? Using the Hongze Lake region as a case study, this paper seeks to discuss how this new system works, and what are the opportunities for and challenges to China’s effective water governance.


Professor Mark Wang is a human geographer whose interests include urbanisation in East Asia, and development and environmental issues in China.

Managing the Unseen: Information Transparency and China’s Groundwater Crisis

A/Prof Matthew J. Currell2

2RMIT University, , Australia

This paper will examine the topic of data transparency and public information disclosure associated with China’s efforts to address its considerable groundwater quality and quantity challenges over the last decade. Examples point to significant tension between the need to adequately characterise problems and gain public trust for new water-related policies and infrastructure, and a desire to avoid divulging information or data deemed not to be in the public or government’s interest to disclose. Exposés by independent journalists and NGOs at key moments appeared to force the Central Government’s hand in acknowledging and dealing with major pollution problems severely impacting peoples’ health. This to some extent led to improved data and information transparency, in conjunction with the government’s ‘War on pollution’ and ‘Water ten plan’. At the same time, there appears to have been limited or selective transparency with regard to data critical to the assessment of other key groundwater related problems, policies and infrastructure. The Central Government has, for example, used groundwater data to promote the need for, and environmental benefits of certain projects (such as the SNWT), while simultaneously limiting access to data needed required to verify other impacts of these, and assess other major projects – such as massive expansion of irrigated agriculture in Xinjiang. While advances in satellite-based methods are providing a means to circumvent data access restrictions, the concept of information control as a critical dimension of political power rings as true in the domain of water management and politics as it does in many other areas of life.


Matthew J. Currell is an associate professor of environmental engineering at RMIT University whose research focusses on groundwater quality and sustainability, particularly in China. He received his PhD in 2011 from Monash University, focussed on the groundwater quality and quantity impacts of intensive irrigation with groundwater in northern China.

Producing the New Water Margin: Fixing the Buffer Zone of China’s Largest Drinking Water Reservoir

Dr Vanessa Lamb1, Dr Sarah Rogers1

1University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

Central China’s Danjiangkou Reservoir provides an important environmental service: clean drinking water for Beijing, Tianjin, and other northern cities supplied by the Middle Route of the South-North Water Transfer Project. To achieve high quality water, an alliance of state and non-state actors is intervening to strictly manage the Reservoir’s “buffer zone” (the extent of the Reservoir’s water-level fluctuations). In this buffer zone a collection of governance tools has been mobilised to protect and enhance the Reservoir’s water quality. In this paper we examine how these tools come together to fix place (through elevation mapping and physical infrastructure), fix plants (by replacing smallholder crops with “ecological” reeds, fruit trees, and willows typically managed by agribusinesses), and fix pollution (through detailed zoning and displacement, as well as environmental infrastructure to stop pollution flows). We argue that this attempt to render the Danjiangkou landscape technical is incomplete and contested, and yet has the effect of fixing profit and marginalising smallholders, by positioning agribusiness as best able to prevent flows of pollution.


Dr Sarah Rogers is a Lecturer in the Asia Institute, University of Melbourne. She is a human geographer who studies hydropolitics, agrarian change, and poverty alleviation in China.

Dr Vanessa Lamb is a Senior Lecturer in the School of Geography, University of Melbourne. She is a human geographer researching human-environment interactions, international water politics, and political ecology of Southeast Asia.

Which Way Forward? Building Up A Water Security System for China’s City of The Future

Ms Wenjing Zhang1

1University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia

Water-related concerns from the process of urbanization remains a challenge around the world. We analyse how a centralised regime frames their mission statement informing their approach to build up a water security system. We argue that the current scholarship around urban water security is not different from the debate around water security, as both discussions emphasise equity, environment conditions, accessibility, and governance, with the former put emphasis at the urban area and urban region. We suggest that the “water security” in China is framed as urban water security which largely motivated by the urbanization process. In light of such framing, large-scale, supply-oriented water transfer projects are emphasized in the policies. The practice of the statement thus poses incentives to continue expanding urban regions as creating a continuous core-periphery structure. By examining the case study of Xiong’an, we expand understandings of, and policy approaches to, urban water security by attending to temporal dimension and regional implications.


Wenjing Zhang is a PhD student in the School of Geography, University of Melbourne. Her research is about the relationship between water availability and urban development, with a focus on the provision of water for the new city of Xiongan.

Governing China’s Water

Dr Vanessa Lamb1, Ms Wenjing Zhang1, Dr Sarah Rogers1, A/Prof Matthew J. Currell2, Professor Mark Wang1

1University Of Melbourne, Parkville, Australia, 2RMIT University, , Australia

Chair: Dr Sarah Rogers


Given its historical legacies of water management and ongoing construction of mega water projects, it is unsurprising that China features strongly in debates about water and politics. Indeed, water has long been a productive lens through which to understand power, the state, and state-society relations in China. Recent scholarship in particular reflects a dynamic engagement between China Studies, economic geography, STS, and political ecology. In this panel individual presenters will examine different aspects of how China governs water and the effects of its interventions to better manage water, with a focus on politics and institutions, the rise of water markets, infrastructure, and water security.


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.

Conference Managers

Please contact the team at Conference Design with any questions regarding the conference.

Photo Credits: Visit Victoria

© 2019 Conference Design Pty Ltd