SINGAPORE (Dec 4): Is a zebra’s colour black on a white background, or white on a black background? It is an interesting question for Mr Google, but can also be used as an analogy for the ways we approach China and its growing participation in the region. This topic underpins the recently released Australian white paper on foreign policy, as well as a question that was highlighted again after my recent visit to Yunnan and Guizhou.

We start with the “black on a white background” answer. In a China context, this suggests that the Chinese presence in parts of Asia is similar to the Chinese presence in the US, Europe and other Western countries. It is a recent diaspora created by the collapse of the Qing dynasty and the resultant poverty.

Singapore is a good Asian example where many Chinese arrived as what we would now call economic refugees. They came from the poverty-stricken provinces of southeastern China, often as a result of economic desperation.

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