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China Threat Emerges in World Elections08/14 10:08

   It's not just the economy. While inflation and recession fears weigh heavily 
on the minds of voters, another issue is popping up in political campaigns from 
the U.K. and Australia to the U.S. and beyond: the "China threat."

   LONDON (AP) -- It's not just the economy. While inflation and recession 
fears weigh heavily on the minds of voters, another issue is popping up in 
political campaigns from the U.K. and Australia to the U.S. and beyond: the 
"China threat."

   The two finalists vying to become Britain's next prime minister, Liz Truss 
and Rishi Sunak, clashed in a televised debate last month over who would be 
toughest on China.

   It's a stark departure from outgoing Prime Minister Boris Johnson's 
business-focused "Sinophile" approach and part of a hardening of anti-China 
rhetoric in many Western countries and other democracies, like Japan, that is 
coming out in election campaigns.

   Nations for years have sought to balance promoting trade and investment with 
the world's second-largest economy with concerns about China's projection of 
military power, espionage and its human rights record.

   The pendulum is swinging toward the latter, as evidenced in U.S., European, 
Japanese and Australian opposition to the threatening Chinese military drills 
that followed U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to Taiwan last week, and 
growing warnings from Western intelligence agencies about Beijing's snooping 
and interference.

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

   China loomed large in Australian's election in May in which the 
conservatives, who ultimately lost, tried to paint the opposition as being 
unwilling to stand up to Beijing.

   America's growing rival on the global stage is also expected to figure in 
this fall's U.S. congressional races, particularly in Midwest industrial 
states, long after former President Donald Trump embraced a fierce anti-China 
posture.

   Many in Europe are also rebalancing their approach to China, though that did 
not figure significantly in elections in France this year and in Germany in 
2021.

   Andreas Fulda, a University of Nottingham political scientist specializing 
in China, said British politicians "are more clear-eyed about China" than their 
European neighbors.

   "The U.K. has paid close attention to what's happening in Australia, and in 
many ways the debate here is well ahead of mainland Europe," he said.

   Truss, the British foreign secretary and the front-runner in the 
Conservative Party's leadership race, has spoken of expanding what she calls a 
"network of liberty" so democracies can counter China and Russia more 
effectively. She says she will crack down on Chinese tech companies such as the 
owner of TikTok, the short-video platform.

   In her role as Britain's top diplomat, Truss has strongly criticized China's 
military moves after Pelosi's Taiwan visit, accusing Beijing of an "aggressive 
and wide-ranging escalation" that "threaten(s) peace and stability in the 
region."

   Sunak, Britain's former Treasury chief, has pledged to shutter the partially 
Chinese-funded Confucius Institutes that promote Chinese culture and language 
at U.K. universities, lead an international alliance against Chinese 
cyberthreats, and help British companies and universities counter Chinese 
spying.

   "I had a sense of dj vu having just moved over 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. "There's a similar 
atmosphere with some politicians trying to deploy the China threat as a 
domestic political tool."

   Bland described a dramatic shift in how politicians talk about China in both 
the U.K. and Australia, from a focus on trade and business ties five years ago 
to viewing China "through the prism of a threat to national security and 
economic competitiveness."

   In the Australian election, conservatives broke from a bipartisanship 
tradition on critical national security issues to accuse the center-left Labor 
Party of being likely to appease Beijing.

   The gambit came up short. Labor, whose victory ended nine years of 
conservative rule, denied it would shift its China policy and has called 
China's military drills around Taiwan "disproportionate and destabilizing."

   "This is not something that solely Australia is calling for," Australian 
Foreign Minister Penny Wong said, adding the entire region was concerned.

   A Lowy Institute survey released in June found Australians increasingly 
concerned about their nation's largest trading partner. Three-quarters of 
respondents said it was at least somewhat likely China would become a military 
threat to Australia in the next 20 years, up 30 percentage points since 2018.

   A Pew Research Center poll the same month found negative views of China are 
at or near historic highs in many of the 19 countries surveyed in North 
America, Europe and Asia.

   Relations between London and Beijing have soured since President Xi Jinping 
was granted a 2015 state visit the U.K. government hoped would cement deals to 
give Britain a vast pool of investment and China greater access to European 
markets.

   Johnson, who took power in 2019, always stressed that he was not a 
"knee-jerk Sinophobe" -- but under pressure from the U.S., his government 
excluded Chinese firms from the U.K.'s 5G communications network. Britain also 
has welcomed thousands of people from Hong Kong as Beijing squeezes the 
freedoms 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 try to 
understand the threats Beijing's growing assertiveness might pose.

   "That feels like a very big moment, post-9/11," Moore said.

   The U.S. also is shifting intelligence resources to China.

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

   Steve Tsang, director of the China Institute at the London University School 
of Oriental and African Studies, said neither candidate seeking to be Britain's 
next prime minister has articulated a coherent policy on China. The winner to 
be announced Sept. 5 after a Conservative Party vote.

   "The indications are that (Sunak's) words on China policy are not based on 
any kind of a strategy," Tsang said. "Nor has Truss articulated a proper China 
strategy, despite being the current foreign secretary."

   China has pushed back against the growing hostility.

   "I would like to make it clear to certain British politicians that making 
irresponsible remarks about China, including hyping the so-called 'China 
threat,' cannot solve one's own problems," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao 
Lijian said after the Sunak-Truss debate.

   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 a loss of manufacturing jobs.

   Pennsylvania Republican Senate nominee Mehmet Oz ran thousands of TV ads 
this spring that mentioned China. In Ohio, Democratic Senate contender Tim Ryan 
declared in one ad: "It's us vs. China."

   Polling suggests neither China, nor foreign policy in general, is a 
top-of-mind issue for most U.S. voters. But political strategists believe China 
is likely to remain a potent political issue in the November U.S. congressional 
election, as candidates seek to link China to America's economic challenges.

   In Asia, it has been more nuanced.

   Japanese voters have become more supportive of a stronger military following 
the Russian invasion of Ukraine and the heightening tensions over Taiwan.

   In the presidential vote in South Korea in March, the candidates differed on 
how to manage the intensifying rivalry between two important partners, China 
and the U.S.

   South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol, who narrowly won, vowed to build a 
stronger alliance with the U.S., while his liberal opponent argued for a 
balancing act. But since taking office in May, Yoon has avoided upsetting 
China, an important export market.

   He did not meet Pelosi when she came to South Korea from Taiwan, though he 
spoke to her by phone, and his government has refrained from criticizing the 
Chinese military moves around the self-governing island.

 
 
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