The Migration Superpowers

LONDON – We have entered the age of migration. If all the people who live outside the country of their birth united to form their own – a republic of the rootless – it would be the fifth-largest country in the world, with a population of more than 240 million people.

Though much has been written about how a world on the move is changing national politics, there has been little consideration of its geopolitical effects. But the mass movement of people is already creating three types of migration superpowers: new colonialists, integrators, and go-betweens.

The new colonialists call to mind the settlers from Europe who spread across the world in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, benefiting not just themselves, but also their homelands. Similarly, the most mobile populations of the twenty-first century are helping their countries of origin obtain access to markets, technology, and a political voice in the world.

The American journalist Howard W. French describes how Africa has become “China’s second continent,” as more than a million new Chinese settlers remake Sub-Saharan Africa. With more Chinese citizens living outside mainland China than there are French people living in France, a similar story is playing out on almost every continent. When those migrants return to China, their capabilities are expertly harvested. Known in China as “sea turtles,” they dominate their country’s technology industry.