A report in the South China Morning Post has highlighted a new wave of Chinese nationals moving to Malaysia. The report “Why are Chinese nationals moving to Malaysia?” mentioned two main categories:
MM2H – From 2002 to 2016, a quarter of the 31,732 successful applicants were from China or 7,967. In 2016 alone, over 1,000 Chinese nationals enrolled in MM2H making up 44 per cent of the applicants. Next were the Japanese at a distant 9 per cent.
Migrant workers – especially in the construction sector.
But there is another category that the report didn’t mention: independent students (not just those who come with their families and are enrolled in international schools) who come on their own from China to study in Malaysia.
The other day, I am sitting down having dinner at a shop in George Town. The place is full; and then this skinny, mop-haired teenager walks up and hesitantly asks if he can share my table. Turns out, he is a 15-year-old lad from Hainan and speaks Hakka.
But he seems happy to converse in English; so curiosity piqued, I ask him what he is doing in Malaysia.
“Studying English,” he replies. Apparently, he arrived in Malaysia with a friend and enrolled in an independent Chinese school in Penang. At the school, he says, there are about 60 students from China. He says he feels at home in Penang, it is less stressful, the weather and food are OK, and he likes the old buildings here.
But why doesn’t he study English in China, where I am sure there are many specialist schools teaching English?
“I can, but then I won’t be able to talk (and practise) with many people like I am talking to you now.”
I ask him if he misses his family back home. “No,” he says, sipping his drink. “I can keep in touch with my parents over WeChat.”
Once he finishes his education, he hopes to work as a translator in Kuala Lumpur. (Presumably, by then firms from China would be present in a big way in the Klang Valley). Obviously not in a hurry to return to China then.
Days earlier, I ran into another student from China.
I ask her what she is doing in Penang. Studying architecture in a local university, she says in halting English.
That makes me wonder, why would a student from China, with its many skyscrapers dotting the cityscape and a construction boom, choose to come to Malaysia to study architecture? From a place like China, whose economy is booming, to Malaysia, which is experiencing a slowdown.
A businesswoman, a Chinese national, I meet at a dinner tells me many young Chinese dream of going to North America, but the queues for visas at the US embassy are long.
So some students from China opt to study in Malaysia as a stepping stone before moving on elsewhere. Moreover, the standard of English required for education in Malaysia is slightly lower than that required in the United States, she says. Plus it is probably cheaper to study here, no doubt.
As for the people in China who buy property here – some of these buyers, she says, want to move their money out of China in case their government takes some of it away from them, one way or another, given that inequality is getting to be a problem in China.
The South China Morning Post report cites several pull factors for Chinese nationals moving to Malaysia:
- lower cost of living
- cleaner air
- relatively laid-back (for now) atmosphere in Penang
- similar culture
- English education at international schools
But against that, they are not officially allowed to work – but they can buy property, which would be a boon for developers here (despite the restrictions on currency outflow China, which many buyers from China know how to circumvent – for now).
This leads to other problems: who will the developers here prefer to build for – the wealthier foreigners or locals, many of whom can only afford less expensive homes?
All this is happening even before Najib’s new wave of China projects in Malaysia can take hold. These massive infrastructure projects will invariably bring with them many more workers from China – professionals, managers, technicians, less-skilled workers along with developers and construction workers – and let’s not forget the staff of the China banks who will set up shop in Malaysia to bankroll these projects, adding to our debt.