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China Daily Website

Tale of two immigrant cities

Updated: 2013-01-25 11:57
By Todd Balazovic ( China Daily)

And while the rise of China's contributions to Africa may now be of wide interest, Haugen has turned her inquisitiveness to the other side of the coin - studying the vast numbers of Africans seeking business opportunities in the world's second-largest economy.

"I thought it would be more fit to study the Africa side, which hadn't been explored very much, and living in West Africa you observed a very vibrant trading culture.

"I wanted to learn how Africans in China were affecting the relations between China and Africa."

To do so, she has spent the last three years traveling to Guangzhou, capital of Guangdong province and heart of the largest concentration of Africans in China.

The thriving business community consists of what some say are 200,000 Africans who have etched out a home in the city's Yuexiu and Baiyun districts. (Haugen disputes the figure, saying that due to the transient nature of the African population it is almost impossible to get an accurate count).

Staying in hotels and apartments where her neighbors were more often than not the very people she wished to study, Haugen began conducting her research through participant observation, living among and interacting with Guangzhou's African residents.

What she found was a society of business-minded entrepreneurs that developed in much the same way as the Chinese residents of Cape Verde had done a decade and a half before.

"What happened eventually in Cape Verde and what happened in some of the other African countries is that after a while there are services and infrastructure set up to facilitate both business travel and migration.

"There are people trading there who have been doing it for generations. For many that's what they were doing before they even came to China. They were in India, they were in Cairo or Dubai and they've just decided to expand their network."

Haugen says the shift of African traders to Guangzhou happened for the same reason that multinationals now engage in business there - access to affordable products to ship back to their home country.

"Whereas they would previously go to other trading hubs they're now going to Guangzhou so that they can place orders directly with the factory and not going, for example, via Dubai as they were doing before."

As in Guangzhou, business in Cape Verde continues to boom.

Meeting Basilio Ramos, the president of Cape Verde's National Assembly, last year, Wu Bangguo, chairman of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, renewed a pledge for closer ties between the two countries.

As the relationship deepens, so does Haugen's interest in how it affects the overall economy of the two trading partners.

"China needs to balance two interests: the needs to maintain social stability through controlling immigration and benefits from economic opportunities brought by immigration," she says.

Contact the writer at toddbalazovic@chinadaily.com.cn

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