In the past few weeks, a spate of high-profile violent crime has created widespread fear in the Asian-American community. An 84-year-old man died in San Francisco after being knocked to the ground by a teenager for no apparent reason. Across the bay in Oakland, California, three people, including a 91-year-old man, were injured after similar attacks. A shopkeeper in Washington, DC, was sprayed with pepper after being verbally abused with racist language.
These are just the latest examples of a worrying trend – more than 3,000 hate crimes have been reported against Americans of Asian origin since the pandemic began.
These hate crimes violate the dignity and rights of Asian Americans. They also threaten the global reputation of the United States and its national security. During the Trump presidency, the world watched with horror as a US leader used dog-whistle languages such as “kung flu” and “China plague” to ignite the flames of white nationalism and direct racism against Asian Americans.
Congressmen and prominent lawmakers such as Rep. Kevin McCarthy and Senator Tom Cotton, as well as senior officials, notably former United States top diplomat Mike Pompeo, also used these labels after the World Health Organization warned that these labels stigmatized people of Chinese origin. Such behaviors provided easy – and uncomfortably precise – propaganda fodder for China, as did violence against black Americans for the Soviet Union during the civil rights era. While Moscow tried to pose as a leader for the oppressed worldwide, Beijing tried instead to portray itself as the head of the global Chinese diaspora.
Meanwhile, China seeks to reshape the world to serve their interests, often at the expense of the values Americans hold dear: respect for economic fairness, democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. Beijing would do nothing better than to see the United States in disarray – unable to maintain democratic cohesion and protect the rights of its own people.
China’s state media has already used the rising number of hate crimes against Asian Americans in the United States as a commentary on a fragile society with dwindling influence abroad. The Global Times, a nationalist newspaper that circulates in both Chinese and English, published an in-depth article on the subject last summer filled with soundbites for the Chinese Community Party’s propaganda machine.
For example, consider the analysis of a Chinese foreign policy expert, Li Haidong, who stated that “The spread of racism in the US has created instability and confrontation, which not only diminishes one’s people’s sense of national identity but also their international influence and influence damage its soft power. “And of course the Chinese Communist Party is only too glad that its geopolitical narratives are borne out by the headlines that are already surfacing on global media sites, such as stories of elderly Asian Americans seeking support and the formation of security patrol groups in theirs Communities. These stories – stemming from former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s passionate 2008 call for Republican leaders to do more to combat Islamophobia – “are killing us all over the world.”
For at least the next decade or more, one of the United States’ most pressing foreign and domestic priorities will be to effectively counter Beijing’s growing aggressiveness. The Chinese Communist Party continues to commit human rights abuses against its Uighur people and politically isolate Taiwan in Hong Kong, engage in unfair business practices and violate international law in the South and East China Seas. She actively promotes her approach to regional and global leadership as superior to the United States. US leaders must formulate a coordinated, tough and comprehensive strategy towards China that also shows that Washington – not Beijing – offers a more just, equitable and hopeful vision for the world.
However, such a plan will only be effective if both Democratic and Republican leaders take swift and determined action to reject violence and hatred against Asian Americans. You need to distinguish between real concerns about the Chinese government and racially motivated hatred against Americans of Asian descent. During World War II, racist rhetoric and allusions to White supremacy sparked attacks on US citizens with devastating consequences for the country – especially the Asian-American community. Today in Beijing opponents of the United States are using these civil rights violations to ridicule US claims of being a democratic leader.
So far, the successes of US political leaders have not been inspiring. Although Congress attempted to take up this issue in September 2020 with a resolution condemning all forms of racism against Asian Americans, the lack of Republican support – only 14 GOP members voted yes – was problematic. The sharp partisan difference suggests that it is worrying not to take this problem seriously, and it is precisely this kind of omission that leads down the slippery slope to repeated mistakes that should belong in the past.
It is worth exploring how analysts and experts also contribute to this conversation. The domestic policy consequences can be outside the scope of a Chinese foreign policy expert. However, in this case, if not done correctly, there are direct and urgent consequences, and the United States can see evidence of this in the tragedies that are now occurring more frequently each day. It is incumbent not only on government officials but also on foreign policy analysts to decipher the emerging racism, to avoid a language like the “Chinese virus” and to think carefully about how they talk about Washington’s policy on China and how their actions affect Asian Americans .
The world’s eyes are on the United States, and maintaining its global leadership role requires more than economic strength and military might. If the United States is to win its competition with China in the 21st century, it must uphold the values that China seeks to undermine. While the potential successes of the civil rights movement during the Cold War caught the imagination of people around the world, a twenty-first century story can inspire and aid people in their battle for hearts and minds. The United States must show that it continues to advocate equality and democracy and that Washington protects the rights of its people. A diverse and great nation bound not by blood but by shared values should face challenges by banding around those values rather than falling apart.
Former US President Ronald Reagan once referred to the United States as a “shining city on the hill,” but this bulwark of democracy is likely to continue to be tested in years to come. There is no doubt that the United States has the right ideals and ingenuity to rebuild its democracy stronger than ever. US President Joe Biden took an important step in the right direction earlier this year by issuing a “Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the US” in his speech last night who mentioned violence. However, it is imperative that federal and state leaders take concrete steps to end racial attacks and discrimination against Asian Americans, even as they address US foreign policy challenges with China.