Examining Chinese Participation in Global Politics

November 23, 2019 Updated: November 25, 2019

News Analysis

Looking back at overseas Chinese participation in politics over the past year, election results were mixed.

Regardless, more and more people of Chinese descent are participating in political elections and running for office. Meanwhile, local elections are seeing higher voter turnout among the Chinese population as they realize the importance of speaking out.

Let’s review ethnic Chinese participation in politics around the world during 2018.

Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) Suffers Heavy Losses, Chinese Voters Actively Participated

On May 10, 2018, Malaysia’s general election results came out. The MCA sent a number of delegates to run for parliament seats, but almost all of them lost. Its affiliate parliament seats dropped from seven during the last administration to one after the new election.

Meanwhile, among the new cabinet MPs were more than a dozen people of Chinese descent. Lin Guanying was elected as the finance minister, Lu Zhaofu was elected as the transportation minister, and some other ethnic Chinese descents became the deputy ministers of education, trade and industry, domestic trade and consumer affairs.

Chinese Malaysians were voting more enthusiastically than ever. There were elderly Chinese in their late 70s registering to vote. Even some Chinese-Malaysians residing in other countries made special trips back home to vote.

According to preliminary post-election polls, more than 90 percent of Chinese voters voted for the opposition party “Alliance of Hope.”

Record-Breaking Turnout in the UK

In May 2018, 4,370 seats were up for election across 150 districts within the UK. All three main parties had Chinese delegates: 18 Conservatives, 2 Labors, and 6 liberal Democrats. In all of UK history, this is the election with the largest number of Chinese candidates ever.

Politicians of Chinese descent won only five seats in the end. But they were not discouraged and summed up lessons learned.

Conservative Party candidate Pan Fengjiao, who was running for the first time last year, believes that Chinese people must pay more attention to politics in order to protect their rights. Every Chinese vote represents one voice, she said, and as more people vote, the more they will be heard in British society.

Labor Party candidate Chen Jinbao, who won in Brent, said it’s not easy to run for office. It’s a cumulative process which takes time and money.

In the process of running for election, the candidates visited potential voters, participated in local community activities, and actively cooperated with other ethnic groups.

Deng Zhuting OBE, chairman of the London Chinatown Chinese Association, said that Chinese people in the UK should vote in the election and reflect their views no matter which party they support. Many problems faced by Chinese people, such as a sharp increase in land tax and a shortage of workers in restaurants, require more Chinese people to participate in politics and advocate for causes they care about.

In Canada, Chinese Women Made History by Entering the Cabinet

Chinese candidates made both gains and losses during municipal elections in the Greater Vancouver region.

A record 70 Chinese candidates ran for mayor, city council member, education committee member, and park board commissioner in the Greater Vancouver municipal elections. Twelve of them had been confirmed elected into office. Compared to the last election four years ago, there were six fewer Chinese elected.

In the Vancouver city council election, all Chinese candidates were defeated. It is also the first time in 36 years that no politician of Chinese descent had been elected to the Vancouver city council.

Ethnic Chinese did well in Ontario’s municipal elections, setting a new record for their participation. About 90 Chinese candidates in the Greater Toronto region were campaigning—a record number. In Markham alone, which has a big Chinese population, 41 ethnic Chinese candidates ran for mayor, city council member, district council member, and education commissioner.

Three of the more than a dozen ethnically Chinese candidates for Toronto’s city council won seats and two were re-elected.

It is worth mentioning that the Canadian prime minister reshuffled the government in July, appointing several new cabinet members. Wu Fengyi was appointed Minister of Small Business and Export Promotion. She is the first Chinese minister in the current cabinet of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and the second Chinese female minister in the history of the Canadian federal government.

Chinese-American Enthusiasm Soared

The 2018 U.S. midterm elections attracted a lot of attention.

Members of Congress Grace Meng, Judy Chu, and Ted Lieu were all re-elected by a wide margin. Chinese-Americans seeking re-election at the state level also won seats. John Chun Liu became the first Asian to be elected to the New York state senate. Zhang Li was elected a state senator of Michigan’s 1st Congressional District, making history of the state’s Chinese participation in politics.

In southern California, with a large Asian population, more than 30 ethnically Chinese politicians ran for election, and 24 of them—roughly 70 percent—were elected or re-elected.

2018’s Chinese voter turnout was also higher than in previous years. However, compared with other ethnic groups, Chinese voters still had a lower voter turnout. Data shows that the average turnout in San Francisco was 60 percent. The voter turnout rate in mostly Caucasian areas was 73.5 percent, while areas with a heavy Chinese population had 43.7 percent voter turnout.

Ethnic Chinese communities in the United States are also aware of the low participation rates, and have initiated efforts to encourage Chinese to vote. Some parents took their children along with them to the polling stations, so that their children can develop a sense of participation in politics at an early age. Although most Chinese high school students don’t meet the age requirement to vote, they also actively participated in election activities such as street canvassing for candidates, and volunteering at polling stations.

Ethnic Chinese Also Actively Participated in Other Countries

In Germany, Yang Ming ran for mayor of Frankfurt, becoming the first Asian to run for mayor of a large city among European Union countries.

In New Zealand, Yang Zongze became the country’s first ethnically Chinese MP.

In Panama, Zhang Junhua submitted his application and became the first Chinese to run for mayor of La Chorrera. Those were just a few examples.

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