‘China threat’ emerges in elections from UK to Australia

LONDON (AP) — It’s not just the economy. So fear of inflation and recession Weighing heavily on voters’ minds, another issue is looming large in political campaigns from the UK and Australia to the US and beyond: the “China threat.”

Two finalists are in the running to become Britain’s next Prime Minister, Liz Truss and Rishi SunakA fight broke out in a televised discussion Last month on who will be the toughest on China.

This is a stark departure from outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s business-focused “Sinophile” approach and is part of a hardening of anti-China rhetoric in many Western countries and other democracies such as Japan, which is surfacing in the election campaign.

For years, nations have tried to balance encouraging trade and investment with the world’s second-largest economy with concerns about China’s military power, espionage and its human rights record.

The pendulum is swinging towards the latter, as shown by US, European, Japanese and Australian opposition Threatening Chinese military drills After US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan Last week, and growing warnings from Western intelligence agencies about Beijing’s espionage and interference.

A delegation of US lawmakers arrived in Taiwan on Sunday for talks de-escalation of tensions in the Taiwan Strait and investment in semiconductors, among other topics.

That shift has made China a target for politicians seeking votes as opinion polls show public sentiment turning against China in many democracies. Some candidates blame China for its economic woes at home, in addition to posing a security threat to its neighbors and the wider world.

China loomed large in Australia Elections in May in which the conservatives ultimately lost tried to paint the opposition as unwilling to stand up to Beijing.

America’s growing global rival is also expected to feature in US congressional races this fall, particularly in Midwest industrial states, long after former President Donald Trump adopted a strong anti-China stance.

Many people in Europe are rebalancing their view of China, although this year’s elections in France and in Germany in 2021 have not shown it significantly.

Andreas Fulda, a political scientist at the University of Nottingham in China, said British politicians were “clearer-eyed about China” than their European neighbours.

“The UK has been paying close attention to what’s going on in Australia and in many ways the debate here is ahead of mainland Europe,” he said.

Truss, British Foreign Secretary and front runner In the race for the leadership of the Conservative Party, she has talked about expanding what she calls a “freedom network” so that democracy can more effectively counter China and Russia. She says she will take action against Chinese tech companies such as the owner of TikTok, the short-video platform.

In her role as Britain’s top diplomat, Truss has been vocal in her criticism of China’s military moves. After Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, Beijing accused Beijing of an “aggressive and pervasive escalation” that “threatens peace and stability in the region.”

Sunak, Britain’s former Treasury chief, has pledged to shut down partly Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes that promote Chinese culture and language at UK universities, lead an international coalition against Chinese cyberthreats and help British companies and universities combat Chinese espionage.

“I had a sense of déjà vu recently moving from Australia,” said Ben Bland, director of the Asia-Pacific program at London’s Chatham House think tank, who previously worked at the Lowy Institute in Sydney. “This is the environment where some politicians are trying to use the China threat as a domestic political tool.”

Bland describes a dramatic shift in how politicians in both the UK and Australia talk about China, from focusing on trade and commercial relations five years ago to viewing China “through the prism of threats to national security and economic competitiveness”.

In the Australian election, hardliners accused the center-left Labor Party of breaking with bipartisanship on critical issues of national security and potentially appeasing Beijing.

Gambling came short. Labour, whose victory ended nine years of conservative rule. It has denied it will change its China policy and has called China’s military exercises around Taiwan “uneven and destabilizing”.

“It’s not just Australia calling,” said Australian Foreign Minister Penny WongIn addition, the whole region was worried.

A Loy Institute survey released in June found Australians increasingly worried about their country’s biggest trading partner. Three-quarters of respondents said China was likely to become a military threat to Australia over the next 20 years, up 30 per cent from 2018.

A Pew Research Center survey In the same month, a survey of 19 countries in North America, Europe and Asia found negative views of China at or near historic highs.

Relations between London and Beijing have soured since President Xi Jinping made a state visit in 2015.

Johnson, who took power in 2019, has always insisted he is not a “knee-jerk Sinophobe” – but under pressure from the US, his government excluded Chinese companies from the UK’s 5G communications network. Britain has also welcomed thousands of people from Hong Kong as Beijing squeezes freedom in the former British colony.

The head of the MI6 intelligence agency, Richard Moore, said last month that China had overtaken terrorism as its top priority, as British spies sought to understand the dangers posed by Beijing’s growing assertiveness.

“It feels like a very long post-9/11 moment,” Moore said.

The US is also shifting intelligence resources to china

Yet China experts say much of the rhetoric of Western politicians is just political grandstanding.

Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the University of London’s School of Oriental and African Studies, said none of the candidates seeking to become Britain’s next prime minister had set out a coherent policy on China. The winner will be announced on September 5 after the Conservative Party votes.

“(Sanak’s) words on China policy are indications that they are not based on any kind of policy,” Tsang said. “Also Truss, despite being the current Foreign Secretary, has not put together a proper China strategy.”

China has turned its back on the growing hostility.

“I want to make it clear to some British politicians that making irresponsible comments about China, including hyping the so-called ‘China threat’, cannot solve its own problems,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said after the Sunak-Truss talks.

In the United States, both major political parties have railed against China on the campaign trail, particularly in the Midwest, where Chinese imports are blamed for the loss of manufacturing jobs.

Pennsylvania Republican Senate candidate Mehmet Oz It ran thousands of TV ads mentioning China this spring. In Ohio, Democratic Senate contender Tim Ryan declared in an ad: “It’s us versus China.”

The poll suggests that neither China nor foreign policy in general is the most important issue for most US voters. But political strategists believe China is likely to remain a powerful political issue in November’s US congressional elections, as candidates seek to link China to America’s economic challenges.

In Asia, it has become more subtle.

Japanese voters are backing a stronger military after the Russian invasion of Ukraine and rising tensions over Taiwan.

In South Korea’s presidential vote in March, the candidates were at odds over how to manage the bitter rivalry between China and the US, two key partners.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who narrowly won, pledged a strong alliance with the US, while his liberal opponent argued for a balanced act. But since taking office in May, Yun has avoided upsetting China, a key export market.

He did not meet with Pelosi He still spoke to her by phone when she arrived in South Korea from Taiwan, and his government has refrained from criticizing Chinese military moves on the self-ruled island.

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Associated Press writers Jill Lawless in London, Ken Moritsugu in Beijing, Steve Peoples in New York, Rod McGurk in Canberra, Australia, Kim Tong-hyung in Seoul, South Korea, and Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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