Inquiry about Chinese in Suriname

January 13, 2009

Since I have moved to Holland, the news I get from my anthropologist colleagues about Chinese migration and development projects tend to be from Africa or the former Dutch colony, Suriname. Here, recent Chinese immigrants are running more and more corner stores and restaurants, while larger Chinese companies have been building roads (very bad ones, according to my Surinamist colleague Marjo van de Theije) and setting up oil palm plantations.

What is interesting is how similar the discourse about these issues in Suriname — a poor country even by South American standards — seems to be to the one in Holland itself, and even more, to Southern and Eastern Europe, at least according to the main newspaper, De Ware Tijd: Chinese are illegal immigrants, victims/perpetrators of human trafficking, carriers of exotic illnesses, smugglers and money launderers.

Recently, the minister of justice has been accused of selling residence permits to Chinese (an accusation that has been levelled by the opposition at the governments of many countries, from Belize to Tonga and the former Yugoslavia). In an article entitled “Middenblok wants parliamentary enquiry about Chinese invasion,” and dated 24 December 2008, De  Ware Tijd reports that the opposition has proposed to subject Chinese immigrants to a medical examination in order “to minimise the occurrence of new diseases … (such as bird flu)” and to require them to learn Dutch. It has also asked the government to disclose any special agreement with China about granting Chinese immigrants privileged conditions and to reveal the sources of financing of Chinese supermarkets and restaurants, as it “did not have the impression that this came from local banks.”

In another article, entitled “Don’t flood Marowijne with Chinese,” De Ware Tijd reports about concerns over a Chinese oil palm plantation, an investment of China Zhong Hen Tai in Marowijne Province. A local politician, Ronny Brunswick, insisted that only “management needs to come here,” while all workers should be hired and trained locally.

Judging by comments on one website, Wereldomroep, though, Surinamese (at least those that are active online) seem much less concerned about (Chinese) immigration than their peers in Europe. One comment explicitly states that Suriname benefits from Chinese migrants, while the others either defend the minister or berate the government for corruption, but none even mentions the Chinese.