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Feb
04

Spain’s ‘China phenomenon’

A Chinese restaurant in Madrid

Spain of late has become a land where immigrants’ dreams go to die, at least since the financial crisis began to unfold. Many migrants from Latin America and North Africa, who had left their homes in search of a better life in Spain, have had to return home in anguish.

But one immigrant group is staying strong and it happens to be one of the newest groups of immigrants in Spain: the Chinese.

A couple of weeks ago, the Financial Times had a really good piece on the Chinese community in Spain.

(You can click here for the story; the site requires registration.)

The China phenomenon in Spain is barely a decade old, but its importance is growing. Chinese immigrants came later to Spain than they did to other developed European economies, probably because the country was itself a slow developer and late arrival in the European Union.

Size of the Community

The Chinese population in Spain has grown from 161 in 1961 to 170,000 today, the FT reports, citing “official statistics.” But even as recently as 1995, the population was only around 10,000. As a percentage of the overall population, using data from the World Bank, the Chinese community has grown to 0.4% of the population today from .03% in 1995 and .0005% in 1961.

By comparison, roughly 1.2% of Americans (3.5 million) in 2007 either claimed Chinese ancestry or were born in China, according to American Community Survey data.

Contributions

The Chinese immigrants in Spain are, by and large, an enterprising bunch, which certainly has its benefits.

Pedro Nueno, president of the China Europe International Business School, said the following to the FT: “[The Chinese community] is very entrepreneurial and hardworking and creates no problems. There are no big health costs or unemployment costs.”

They are well established in the trade of clothing, shoes and toys. They have also established restaurants and 99-cent-type stores (in Spain they’re called ‘todo a cien’ shops, which Spaniards have taken to calling “chinos”).

Chinese people in Spain

The establishment of the Chinese community coincides with a burgeoning relationship between Spain and China. Trade has been increasing between the two countries as is tourism. Spain is making a push to increase the flow of Chinese tourists over the next decade. And let’s not forget that China was one of the first to show confidence in Spain’s economic vitality a couple of months ago, at a time when investors were wary of touching Spanish debt.

Potential Problems

The growing population of Spain’s Chinese community doesn’t come without warning signals of future trouble. As the FT reports:

Spanish business owners have reacted to the rise of Chinese enterprise in their midst with a mixture of admiration, resentment and fear. Six years ago there were violent protests against Chinese shoe imports. Spaniards have since been obliged to recognise the importance of the Chinese as customers, competitors and, increasingly, employers.

“Now that China is very strong, people get to know us more and start to respect us more, but they are also afraid of the commercial ‘invasion’ and the idea that ‘Chinese people are taking our jobs’,” a Chinese executive at a large Spanish company told the FT.

It probably doesn’t help that the Chinese immigrants in Spain don’t appear to be making a concerted effort to assimilate. “We’re not truly integrated,” lawyer Yijong Ji Wang tells Time. “Many Chinese don’t even learn Spanish because they don’t have to — they can even get TV in Chinese here.”

That doesn’t mean the Chinese community hasn’t conducted any outreach. The article in Time highlighted one such effort: a ‘Miss China in Spain’ contest. Read about it here.

Esperanza Liu, who organized the event, told Time: “Spaniards think we Chinese only care about work. We want to show them we care about beauty too.”

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