China's Shadow Empire is a joint investigative series between U.S. news outlet Axios and Danish newspaper Politiken. It looks into how the Chinese government is quietly trying to advance its geopolitical aims in corners of the globe that were historically contested or colonized by former imperial powers, including Japan, Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union. Regions that were the sites of bloody conflicts in the 20th century are once again becoming potential flashpoints as the U.S.-and-China jockey for power.
Beijing has consistently sought to cast itself as a new kind of global power—one that respects the sovereignty of other nations. In the Global South, the Chinese Communist Party often invokes colonial history, hailing China as an equal partner in contrast to the exploitative imperial powers of the past. But from Tanzania to Okinawa to the Pacific Islands, Beijing is adopting traditional strategies of great power influence, including a “divide and conquer” strategy, by making overtures to Indigenous groups and encouraging independence movements.
This project will explore how people in Tanzania, Okinawa, and Micronesia recognize the bargaining power they now have. It looks at how citizens and leaders in these regions are leveraging their position between the U.S. and China for their own benefit—making these stories far more complex than simply that of a chess game between two superpowers.