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Chinese communities resident in Mexico and Cuba face a common problem: their dealings with business partners in China are perceived as a threat to national interests. In Mexico this concern emanates from manufacturers unable to compete with Chinese imports, and is evident in antagonistic news media and acts of hostility against Chinese businesses. In Cuba it stems from the state's stewardship over economic sovereignty, and is evident in efforts to assimilate Havana's Chinatown and its entrenched informal sector into a centralized scheme of commercial regulation. Interviews with policy makers, local officials and Chinese entrepreneurs indicate that the “rationalization” of Chinese ethnic allegiances for the greater public good is a critical step towards alleviating tensions. I conclude that both countries can leverage benefits from overseas Chinese communities, but to do so they must support their entrepreneurial activities, harness their networks to promote targeted imports and exports, and develop more culturally sensitive regulations.
Adrian H. Hearn is Australian Research Council (ARC) Future fellow at the University of Sydney and co-chair of the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) Section for Asia and the Americas. Recent publications include Cuba: Religion, Social Capital, and Development (Duke University Press, 2008) and (as editor) China Engages Latin America: Tracing the Trajectory (Lynne Rienner, 2011).