China is arguably the fastest growing economy in the world. It is difficult to go through anymajor newspapers and not come across optimistic and rosy reports about China and itsincredible development. China is seen to the next major power, one that is tipped to rival, and perhaps overtake the United States sooner rather than later.However, there is a curious development. It was recently reported in
The Weekend Australian
that the number of Chinese migrants to Australia was greater than that of either Britain or New Zealand in the first ten months of 2009. Given the close cultural, social andhistorical affinities between Australia, Britain and New Zealand, it is not surprising thatBritish and New Zealand residents choose to migrate to Australia and vice versa. On the other hand, China is a very recent actor in this area and I believe that the current large numbers of Chinese migrants undermine popular claims of Chinese “soft power”.In essence, Joseph Nye’s concept of soft power refers to a state’s ability to influence another state through the inherent attractiveness, draw, and attraction of its ideas, values and culture.In the present context, individuals and states are keen to jump on the Chinese bandwagon for fear of missing out on reaping the immense economic benefits associated with closer linkswith the Middle Kingdom. The Chinese social, political, cultural, and economic systems andvalues do not hold much traction nor are they intrinsically attractive. Volition is arguably thekey aspect that differentiates soft power from traditional forms of power. Fear of missing outdoes not qualify as acting on one’s volition.Soft power is most usually associated with the United States. Mention the United States andthe first thing that comes to mind is the “American Dream”, which is arguably the ability for an individual to make good through one’s efforts. The American Dream is arguably about theequality of opportunities, not necessarily the equality of outcomes. However, I am unable torecall if a corresponding version of “Chinese Dream” exists.The United States has been long been the traditional and favoured destination for migrants.On the other hand, China has been the source of many migrants in recent years, just when the positive effects of the economic reforms introduced by Deng Xiaoping in 1978 have begun to be realised.If China is really the next superpower with its large reserve of ever increasing soft power,why is it that its residents are leaving the country in droves? Furthermore, it is also importantto remember that Chinese residents who emigrate belong to the middle-upper classes inChina. They are the direct beneficiaries of Deng’s economic reforms. They have theeducation, the financial resources and most importantly, the guanxi to succeed incontemporary China. At the same time, most of these migrants are in the prime of their lives,and it coincides with China’s ascendancy. Logically, these individuals would want to remainin China. Yet, they are seeking greener pastures abroad, when the rest of the world perceivesChina to be the greenest pasture. Perhaps, these Chinese residents are not so certain about thedurability of China’s bull run or taken in by optimistic assessments of foreign analysts.Granted some of these individuals are politically and religiously persecuted by the Chineseauthorities, it is fair to assume that they only constitute a minute proportion of the totalnumber of people leaving China.As an individual working in the Australian higher education system, I have come acrossmany Chinese students who seek an Australian tertiary education with an eye to securingAustralian permanent residency status. More of these students already possess degrees fromChinese universities and while in Australian universities, many of them take coursesconducted in Chinese languages on Chinese topics, or even Chinese language classes. Iwould assume that if they were really that interested in learning more about Chinese cultureand society or brushing up their language skills, staying on in China would be the naturalchoice. After all, nothing beats an immersive experience.