It’s not just about the economy. As fears of inflation and recession weigh heavily on voters, another theme is looming in political campaigns from the US and Australia to the US and beyond: the “China threat”.
Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, who will be Britain’s next prime minister, clashed in a televised debate last month over who would crack down on China.
It’s a marked departure from outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s business-oriented “Sinophile” approach, and part of the escalating anti-China rhetoric in many Western countries and other democracies like Japan, which is emerging in election campaigns.
He tried to balance promoting trade and investment with the world’s second-largest economy with concerns about China’s military power projection, espionage, and human rights record.
Opposition to looming Chinese military drills following US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan last week, and mounting warnings from Western intelligence agencies of espionage and meddling by Beijing.
This shift has made China a target for politicians looking for votes, as opinion polls show public sentiment in many democracies is turning against China. Some candidates blame China for the country’s economic woes, as well as for posing a security threat to its neighbors and the rest of the world.
China dominated Australia’s May elections, in which the Conservatives, who ultimately lost, tried to bolster the opposition portrayed as unwilling to take a stand against Beijing.
The United States’ growing rival on the world stage is also expected to be who will be running in the US congressional elections this fall. , particularly in the developed Midwest, long after former President Donald Trump took a hard line on China. Many in Europe are also recalibrating their stance on China, although that won’t matter much in elections in France this year and Germany in 2021.
Andreas Fulda, a China-focused political scientist at the University of Nottingham, said British politicians are “more clear: “The United States has been paying a lot of attention to what is happening in Australia, and in many ways the debate here is way ahead of continental Europe,” he said.
Truss, Britain’s Foreign Secretary and a frontrunner in the Conservative Party’s leadership contest has spoken about expanding what she calls a “freedom web” so democracies can confront China and Russia more effectively.
She says she will crack down on Chinese tech companies like the owner of TikTok,
the short-video platform. a far-reaching escalation” that “threatens peace and stability in the region”. international alliance against Chinese cyber threats and help British companies and universities counter Chinese espionage.
“I had a sense of deja vu just moving from Australia,” said Ben Bland, director of the Asia Pacific program at London think tank Chatham House, who previously worked at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “There is a similar atmosphere with some politicians trying to use the Chinese threat as a domestic political tool.
Bland described a dramatic shift in the way US politicians talk about China through the prism of a threat to national security and economic competitiveness. In the Australian election, the Conservatives broke with the tradition of bipartisanship on critical national security issues to accuse the center-left Labor Party of placating Beijing.
Labor, whose victory ended nine years of Conservative rule, denied it would change its China policy and called China’s military exercises in Taiwan “disproportionate and destabilizing”. Australian Foreign Minister Penny Wong said the entire region was concerned.
A Lowy Institute poll released in June found that Australians are increasingly concerned about their country’s largest trading partner. Three-quarters of respondents said it was at least reasonably likely that China would become a threat to Australia over the next 20 years, up 30 percentage points from 2018.
A Pew Research Center poll the same month found negative views of China at or near all-time highs in many of the 19 countries surveyed across North America, Europe, and Asia. The US government hoped his visit would cement deals to allow Britain a large amount of investment and China better access to European markets.
Under pressure from the US, his government banned Chinese companies from entering the US 5G communication network.
Britain has also welcomed thousands of people from Hong Kong as Beijing restricts freedoms in the former British colony.
MI6 chief Richard Moore said last month China had replaced terrorism as its top priority. , while British spies try to understand the threats Beijing’s growing assertiveness could pose. “This feels like a great post-9/11 moment,” Moore said.it also transfers intelligence resources to China.
However, Chinese experts say much of the rhetoric of Western politicians is just political boasting. Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said the next prime minister has formulated a coherent policy toward China.
The winner will be announced on September 5 following a vote by the Conservative Party.”The indications are that (Sunak’s) words about China’s policies are not based on any strategy,” Tsang said. hostility.
“I want to make it clear to certain British politicians that irresponsible comments on China,
including exaggerating the so-called ‘China threat, cannot solve their own problems,” Foreign Ministry
spokesman Zhao Lijian said after the meeting. truss discussion.
In the United States, both major political parties have criticized China during the election campaign, particularly in the Midwest, where Chinese imports have been blamed for the loss of industrial jobs.
Republican Senate candidate from Pennsylvania Mehmet Oz ran thousands of television ads this spring that mentioned China. In Ohio, Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan declared in an ad: “Us against China. Polls suggest that neither China nor foreign policy in general is a priority for most U.S. voters.
But political strategists believe China is likely to remain a major political issue in November’s US congressional election as candidates seek to link China to America’s economic challenges. In Asia, it was more nuanced.
Military following the Russian invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions over Taiwan. In South Korea’s presidential election in March, candidates were divided over how to deal with the deepening
the rivalry between two major partners, China and the US.
South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol, who narrowly won, pledged to build a stronger alliance with the US, while his liberal opponent advocated a balancing act. But since taking office in May, Yoon has avoided angering China, a key export market.
He did not meet Pelosi when he arrived in South Korea from Taiwan, although he spoke to her on the phone, and his government has refrained from criticizing Chinese military movements on the autonomous island.