In the past few weeks, about 90,000 people of Chinese origin, according to Peking figures, have been forced out of Vietnam.
In the past few weeks, about 90,000 people of Chinese origin, according to Peking figures, have been forced out of Vietnam. Most of the countries of South-east Asia have substantial Chinese communities; and this is by no means the first time that they have either been driven out or become the target for local hostility.
SYNOPSIS: Several thousand Chinese a day, official sources in China say, are making their way across Vietnam's northern border back into China; and they have accused the Vietnamese of a savage campaign of persecution and physical ill-treatment of these people. The Vietnamese have suggested official talks between the two governments to discuss the problem; but they have not tried to stop the exodus or shown any willingness to have the Chinese back.
Cholon, in the former Saigon. now called Ho Chi Minh city, is one of the districts where the Chinese have stabilised themselves. As in many Asian cities. the Chinese community are active and successful traders. Economic, rather than ethnic or narrowly political considerations may have provoked the action against them.
This was one factor in the serious communal clashes in Singapore in July 1964. The Malay population were outnumbered, and resentful of Chinese economic domination. But there were other complexities. Singapore then belonged to the Malaysian Federation and was in a state of confrontation with Indonesia. The Malaysian government blamed Indonesia for formenting the trouble. In Indonesia, Chinese suffered during the overthrow of the Sukarno regime. Rioters identified them with Communism, and the new government treated them as a security risk. Indonesia still has a Chinese community of nearly three million people. But long after the 1965 upheavals, they were living separated lives, their comfortable homes well protected against any further attacks.
Malaysia had a serious outbreak of communal violence in May 1969, in which more than 100 lives were lost in Kuala Lumpur. It followed a general election, in which the Chinese community deserted their traditional leaders. But underlying it was Chinese dissatisfaction with inferior political status, and Malay discontent with Chinese economic domination.
Economically shaky governments have found that, tough they would rather not harbour Chinese traders, they cannot do without them. In Cambodia - before the revolution - the traders were tolerated, but forced to remove signs in Chinese characters.
Modern Singapore is their stronghold and shopwindow. The city lives by trade, and the Chinese control it. They make up more than three-quarters of the population, and make no attempt to disguise their wealth. The streets are full of their big cars; their homes could be luxury villas in California or the south of France.
In numbers, Thailand has the largest of all the expatriate communities of Chinese origin. There are between three and four million of them - about a tenth of the total population. Most of them live in and around the capital, Bangkok, and here again, the majority are traders. They appear to have integrated themselves more closely with the rest of the population than have the Chinese minorities in other Asian countries; and so are able to go about their business and maintain their traditional culture in peace.