Recent studies of the Chinese in Southeast Asia have tended to deconstruct the hybrid, transnational, diasporic, and de-territorialized attributes of ‘Chinese-ness’, and theorize the politics thereof. In contrast, earlier scholarship on the politics of Southeast Asia's ethnic Chinese raised many questions over the positions, rights, and roles associated with being ‘overseas Chinese’. Hence, many analyses of Chinese politics, from suppressed quietude to militant contestation, tended to ask, ‘Why and how was that politics Chinese?’ This article asks, instead, ‘Why and how were the Chinese political?’ within the larger rubric of Southeast Asian politics. It argues that posing the first question helped officialdom, academia and media to determine who among the ‘overseas Chinese’ were friends or foes. Asking the second question, it is argued, involves a boundary-crossing shift that sees the immigrant Chinese engaged in a full spectrum of Southeast Asian politics under the impacts of colonialism and nationalism, and capitalism and anti-capitalism. After exploring the shift in perspective from ‘being Chinese’ to ‘being political’, the article suggests that politics beyond China-oriented positions, state-bound stances, or preoccupations of ethnic identity, particularly in Malaysia transformed Southeast Asia to the point of ‘creating’ a ‘largely Chinese’ state out of Singapore.