During the past 15 years, the Chinese migrant community in Spain has grown significantly. Originally a small and dispersed population, it now ranks fourth among the migrant groups from non-European Union (EU) countries. Its increasing presence in daily urban life is evident everywhere. Even though the Chinese community has a long history of settlement in Spain, the Spanish population still considers the Chinese as a closed and somewhat mysterious community. References to exaggerated stereotypes and prejudices regarding their activities and social organization can often be overheard in daily conversations. However, China, usually considered exotic and remote, has recently assumed greater importance in Spain's foreign policy. Thus, the Spanish Government has drawn up the Asia-Pacific Framework Plan for 2000–2002 as part of its international policy considerations, thereby extending its interests to include areas well beyond its traditional foreign policy focus on Latin America. The Government's objectives are to expand its economic relations with Asia, to enhance trade and tourism with the area, expand the development cooperation with China, the Philippines, and Viet Nam — countries defined as top priorities for the Spanish Government — and to reinforce linguistic and cultural ties with these countries (Bejarano, 2002). In support of the Asia-Pacific Framework Plan, the Casa Asia (House of Asia) was established in Barcelona in 2002, an institution created to organize academic and artistic activities in order to promote the knowledge of the region among Spaniards, and to foster political, economic, and cultural relations with Asia.

The Government intends to pursue two important objectives related to the increasing commitments it is seeking to establish with China, and which are also of relevance to the overseas Chinese as the principal social actors involved. First, the strengthening of commercial exchanges with the People's Republic of China (PRC) are likely to benefit import-export activities among the Chinese migrants, and be supported by their knowledge and practical experience of the respective social environments. Second, the dissemination of information on Spain is expected to establish and maintain stronger links in both directions. In the near future, these initiatives may also be instrumental in increasing the movement of people between China and Spain. Besides these primary objectives, the initiative pursues another important aim — the promotion of the social integration of the Chinese migrant community in the country.

This paper addresses these issues, including data sources and their availability on Chinese migrants in Spain, the relevant local legal framework and how it influences the development of the Chinese migrant group, its sociodemographic composition, and migratory patterns. Finally, it addresses the changes in their economic activities.