(Xinhua) -- In 2011, the BBC published
a documentary on Chinese migrants in Africa, titled "The Chinese
Barely six years later, Western media such
as the Financial Times and Quartz now say the Chinese are
leaving, alleging that overseas Chinese are returning from the
continent after low commodity prices have devalued African
The influx of Chinese in Africa since the early 2000s has
been linked to booming trade ties and the strategy of Chinese
companies to "go overseas."
But without reliable statistics, it remains debatable to
categorically say migration has peaked and the trend has started
Western media appears to have drawn this conclusion by
combining the decline of trade figures with the frustrations of
migrants about the business environment—from weak currencies to
exorbitant taxes and fees.
Chinese have been settling on the continent since Chinese
ships first arrived at East African shores in the 15th century.
They have remained for six centuries through good times and bad.
Small ethnic Chinese communities have existed over 100 years
in some African countries.
Since 2000, the number of Chinese migrants in Africa has
risen dramatically and has been estimated at over 1 million for
Even if a tiny fraction of these Chinese have packed up and
left this time, there should be no concern. A decline in the
number of small businessmen is a sign that China-Africa economic
engagement is entering new phase.
Early Chinese construction projects in Africa did involve a
substantial number of Chinese laborers.
But over the years, the African work-force has gradually
gained the skills required and adapted to Chinese work systems.
A trend can be seen in Chinese companies hiring more local
The shift makes business sense.
Hiring Chinese to work overseas is more expensive than ever,
with higher wages, away-from-home allowances, food,
accommodation, insurance, transportation costs ... just to name
Across the continent, Africans typically fill more than 85
percent of the jobs on labor-intensive projects.
And they are not only laborers and technicians, more are
becoming managers and consultants.
Other than construction workers, small retailers were also
said to be leaving.
But on the other hand, African businessmen have been living
in major Chinese trading hubs, such as Guangzhou and Yiwu, for
some time and are able to order made-in-China products
This serves as evidence that African business communities
have benefited from the economic engagement and they have
learned enough to outperform the immigrants.
Nowadays Chinese entrepreneurs are encouraged to instead
invest in more sophisticated sectors where they hold a
Retail has lost its appeal.
Those who are still in the sector have seen profits dive. It
is time to pack up and do something else.
It is also worthy to note that Chinese migrants have been
lured to return due to opportunities in China, rather than being
forced to leave due to sluggish economic growth in Africa.
Fuqing, in east China’s Fujian Province, has likely produced
more emigrants than other places in China. For centuries,
residents of the coastal villages surrounded by hills took
dangerous voyages at sea to find better places to live.
But the Internet revolution, along with improvements in rural
infrastructure, has become a game changer.
People in remote villages can easily find buyers via
e-commerce apps and websites.
A modern logistics network also aids the movement of goods.
It is not just about trade.
Villagers can have access to quality healthcare and education
and take part in other economic activities through online
As China is continuously exploring new economic drivers,
Africa stands a good chance of benefiting.
Chinese e-commerce guru Jack Ma, founder and chairman of
Alibaba Group, made his first visit to Africa in July, centering
on empowering young African entrepreneurs.
Alibaba will arm African youth with skills required for
e-commerce, and the company’s mobile payment subsidiary Ant
Financial is expanding to the continent.
When launching Alipay in South Africa, company executives
said they saw "big potential in Africa."
Global consultancy firm McKinsey last year issued a report
titled "Lions on the Move II," which said that despite a dip in
growth in a few oil exporting countries, Africa’s long-term
fundamentals are strong and there are substantial market and
investment opportunities on the table.
The continent is seeing a massive urbanization process and
will have a larger working-age population than either China or
India by 2034.
Another McKinsey report dedicated to China-Africa
partnerships said Chinese companies in Africa - about 90 percent
of which are private companies - could be earning revenue worth
440 billion U.S. dollars by 2025, up from 180 billion today.
New opportunities lie in technology, housing, farming,
financial services, transportation and logistics.
People from Fuqing, or Fujian Province at large, have long
been known for their business acumen.
It is hard to imagine that they would choose to leave after
being on the ground for some years.
Maybe it is just a pause before they find the right sector
and dive back in.