The emergence of China as a source of international investment and development aid donor has been preoccupying policy analysts and development professionals for the last two years. China’s emergence in this arena, which in some places has edged out traditional (Western and Japanese) donors, is said to undermine efforts to promote good governance and fight corruption in poor countries. In addition, opponents charge that Chinese-led development brings with it a host of environmental and health threats, violations of local residents’ and workers’ rights and a large number of Chinese migrants who compete with locals in business and the labour market. On the other hand, a growing number of actors in these countries – not just officials but also businesspeople and farmers – argue that China is bringing tangible benefits and that the “Chinese model” of development is a more appropriate and attractive one than that promoted by Western organizations.
Despite this highly publicized debate, we know very little about whether and how the arrival of Chinese capital, workers, and technology is actually affecting the lives of people in recipient countries; how it is changing the relationship between Chinese and locals; and to what extent the realities on the ground are in line with China’s policy goals and the intentions of various Chinese actors. Participants at this workshop are in early stages of ethnographic research in various Southeast Asian countries (Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Papua New Guinea) as well as China itself aimed at answering this question. The workshop will be the first in what we hope to make a series of forums to share research results and plan further research and collaboration.