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In countries where there is a large Chinese diaspora, are there any notable politicians of Chinese origin?

US, Australia are examples of countries with large chinese diaspora.
I'd like to restrict to western countries here (not e.g. Singapore)

A 'notable' politician is someone who has run for high ranking office (e.g. President, Governor but not State assembly or Mayor) and has had popular support across a larger region (not just in their constituency).

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    The phrasing of the question excludes Parliamentary systems. There are no UK politicians with "popular support across a wider region", including the Prime Minister. It would also seem to exclude people like Elaine Chao, even though she held a Cabinet level post (as such posts are not elected in the US)
    – James K
    Dec 17, 2023 at 9:43
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    First generation? Or second generation and up? The motivations for not voting for an ethnic Chinese politicians may very well be very different between the 2 in Western countries. Might be good to put in answers as well. Interesting Q though, Indian-origin politicians are becoming the norm in many Western countries (Canada has numerous examples, Ireland, UK, USA...), Chinese-origin seem comparably absent. Dec 17, 2023 at 20:34
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    @JamesK "popular support" may be measured by means other than counting votes. Does the UK prohibit opinion polls?
    – phoog
    Dec 18, 2023 at 11:47
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    Prohibiting Mayors of large cities seems unnecessarily restrictive. A mayor of a Boston or a Toronto represents millions of people, more than the entire population of the lowest 10+ US states by population. Dec 18, 2023 at 14:48
  • @SpehroPefhany If you have such examples, write an answer and add that due to the large populations they should be considered notable politicians. I mainly just wanted to exclude random "small" politicians with hardly any influence outside their constituency.
    – whoisit
    Dec 18, 2023 at 15:00

3 Answers 3

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Here are some examples:

Penny Wong, minister for Foreign Affairs and leader of the Government in the Senate of Australia.

Elaine Chao, Secretary of Labor under President Bush, and Secretary of Transport under Donald Trump.

Doug Chin, briefly Lt. Governor of Hawaii

No ethnic Chinese person has held a Cabinet-level post in the Westminster government, though Alan Mak was a government whip and (briefly) a treasury minister.

One commonality among these four, very different politicians, is a rejection that they represent a community or ethnic group. Generally, members of the Chinese diaspora are politically diverse and don't identify with any particular party in the UK, USA or Australia.

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  • Worth noting that as part of Australian law, politicians have to renounce overseas citizenship before being elected - Penny Wong would have had to renounce her Malaysian citizenship by birth, and if she had any rights to Chinese citizenship through her father (or indeed Oz/British through her mother) she would have to formally be unable to take that up as welll
    – David M
    Dec 17, 2023 at 21:59
  • Would Elaine Chao or Doug Chin have popular support? Penny wong is the only one I could say fits the criteria.
    – whoisit
    Dec 17, 2023 at 22:00
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    Well see my comment under the question. The framing of the question seems to assume every notable political post is directly elected by voters of the whole country (but strangely then includes "governors" who are only regional representatives. I think a Cabinet post is sufficient to be called "notable" even though it is an appointed, not elected position. Likewise Lt Governor (although Chin is probably an edge case, as he only held the post in an interim period, and failed to win his primary for Congress)
    – James K
    Dec 17, 2023 at 22:42
  • @JamesK the framing of the question would be difficult for me to get right as well. how do you count what office you elect someone for vs what, for example, ministry, they get into? France's ministers used to be - dont have a clue nowadays - often mayors. then the prez, iirc, would pick someone. would you count their mayorship as significant? maybe not. but how about finance or defense minister? or about a pure technocrat? the exact mechanism is less intriguing than the final answer. Dec 18, 2023 at 4:42
  • this question has legs, and to people remembering the cold war, how exactly would countries have reacted to a Russian emigre getting senior posts? to people remembering WW2 and the Japanese internment camps... yeah, let's just say the West hasn't always covered itself in glory. Dec 18, 2023 at 4:43
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Gary Locke served as the governor of the US state of Washington from 1997 to 2005. Locke won 58% of the popular vote in the 1996 Washington gubernatorial election and was re-elected for a second term in 2000, again with 58% of the votes.

To my knowledge, he was the first person of Chinese descent to hold the office of governor in any US state. He subsequently also served as Secretary of Commerce during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2011. The Secretary of Commerce ranks 10th in the presidential line of succession.

Locke is a third-generation Chinese American with roots in Hong Kong and Guangdong who reportedly did not speak English until he was five years old.

In the 2020 census 5.2 million people out of a total US population of 332 million claimed Chinese ancestry, or about 1.6%. This relative low percentage is in part due to the Chinese Exclusion Act which was in effect from 1882 until 1943, a direct consequence of the strong racism directed towards Chinese people at the time [1]. Major immigration of Chinese people to the United States therefore is a relatively recent phenomenon. As a consequence one would expect people of Chinese descent serving in government mostly in states where they represent a larger percentage of the population.

For example, in California (where Chinese Americans represent 3.6% of the population) there is currently one Chinese-American politician serving as an elected officer of the executive branch, state treasurer Fiona Ma. This office has in the recent past also been held by Chinese Americans John Chiang and Matt Fong. The elected office of state controller has in the recent past been held by Chinese-American politicians Betty Yee and John Chiang. While California is obviously a US state and not a country, it has almost 40 million inhabitants and the size of its economy exceeds that of the United Kingdom.


[1] For background reading:

Iris Chang, The Chinese in America: A Narrative History, Penguin 2004
Jean Pfaelzer, Driven Out: The Forgotten War against Chinese Americans, University of California Press 2008
A. Bandlamudi, "San Jose Had 5 Chinatowns. What Happened To Them?", KQED online, June 17, 2021
D. B. Taylor, "San Jose Apologizes for Decades of Discrimination Against Chinese", The New York Times online, September 30, 2021

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In terms of elected mayors of large cities (both are quite diverse cities which have metro populations in the 5m-6m range, so dissimilar from places like Markham, Ontario and Monterey Park, CA):

Michelle Wu, mayor of Boston (daughter of immigrants).

Olivia Chow, mayor of Toronto (born in HK, immigrated at a young age).

There was also Andrew Yang, US presidential candidate in 2020 (son of immigrants). Not elected but presumably had sufficient support to get on the podium.

Wikipedia has a list of US congress members etc.

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