ENGLISH has taken on an increasing social and cultural significance for the Chinese people worldwide, according to Professor Wang Gungwu, vice-chancellor of the University of Hong Kong and a renowned expert on the history of Chinese migration.
Of the 25 million Chinese who live outside mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong and Macau, Professor Wang finds that nearly half live in English-speaking countries - about two million in the United States and Canada, 250,000 in Britain, 250,000 in Australia, 35,000 in New Zealand, 40,000 in the West Indies, 30,000 in the South Pacific, including Fiji and Papua New Guinea, and 2.2 million in Singapore.
Other countries where the ethnic Chinese are largely English-speaking include Malaysia (5.5 million), the Philippines (about one million), parts of south and west Asia (200,000) and Africa (70,000).
In Professor Wang's view, the dispersal of the English-speaking Chinese has underlined four significant roles they play in the world.
First, their bilingual skills have assured them a place in the global market where the dominant international language is English.
Second, their access to a bilingual education enables them to tie in easily with the great centres in the West, especially North America, while acting as communication channels with mainland China and Taiwan.
Third, they play an important role in bridging the world of the Chinese overseas and the world of the multinationals, especially those operating in the Asian region.
Fourth, their increasing social and cultural sophistication, through their knowledge of Chinese and Western civilisations, places them in a valuable position as a bridge between the two.
As far as Hong Kong is concerned, Professor Wang believes the territory and its people have gone beyond being merely channels for directing Anglo-American values into China.
'They can now also offer channels for Chinese traditions and values to be appreciated by the wider English-speaking world and beyond through their Anglo-Chinese experiences and skills,' he said.