From the US to Asia to Africa, China is increasingly becoming a campaign issue around the world.
In the US and beyond, China as an election ‘boogeyman’
In West Virginia, GOP candidate Don Blankenship, a former coal baron and ex-con, is trying to win votes by hitting out against Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, accusing him of giving jobs to “China people.”
Senate hopeful Blankenship, whose primary is on Tuesday, also questioned McConnell’s “personal connections” to China. His wife is the Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, a Chinese American.
Half a world away in Malaysia, opposition candidate Mahathir Mohamad, 92, has accused incumbent Prime Minister Najib Razak of selling out the country to China, by allowing too much Chinese investment.
In Zimbabwe, the election platform of opposition leader Nelson Chamisa rests on weeding out “asset-stripping” Chinese investors.
After opening up in 1978, China has become the world's second-largest economy and is eager to wield greater influence in the world. This influence has resulted in a backlash that is particularly apparent during electioneering.
“As China grows more powerful and more influential in global affairs,it is unavoidable that there will be opposition in other countries. That’s the burden of being a great power,” Mary Gallagher, the director of the Center for Chinese Politics at the University of Michigan, tells Inkstone.
China’s influence globally is directly related to its growing overseas investment. Last year, China invested a total of $120 billion in other countries.
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping proposed the Belt and Road Initiative. By funding infrastructure in other countries, China hopes to secure resources and increase its diplomatic power.
According to a Nomura report, Malaysia secured $34.2 billion of Bell and Road-related projects, making it one of the largest beneficiaries of Chinese investment in Asia.
Meanwhile, China is Zimbabwe’s largest source of investment. In 2013, China invested about $600 million in the country.
Much of that money is badly need investment, but there are concerns that the bulk of the funding goes to Chinese companies building the infrastructure, rather than to Zimbabwean firms.
While there are legitimate questions about China’s growing investment and influence overseas, ethnic Chinese, some of who have lived in their countries for generations, fear being targeted as a result.
“Overseas Chinese could also become easy targets to blame for domestic woes, such as what the Japanese experienced back in the 1990s,” says Lynette Ong, a China expert at the University of Toronto.
Many say Senate hopeful Don Blankenship's attack on McConnell’s Chinese family is racist.
Ethnic Chinese in Australia say they’ve been feeling the heat as public attention turns to the contentious subject of China’s involvement in Australia politics. China is Australia’s largest trading partner.
There are concerns Down Under that China organizes and mobilizes overseas Chinese to influence domestic politics through its United Front Work Department.
The country has announced new laws to counter foreign influence, including the ban on foreign donations to political parties.
Gallagher of UMich says that “China’s power projection is more centralized and control, so it is often hard from abroad to separate out what is China’s legitimate soft power and what is government-backed influence peddling.”
As China rises, it is likely to feature more prominently in elections around the globe.