China has been cleaning up the US economic watch ever since Bill Clinton closed the country into the WTO without any assurances that it would end its state subsidies, its repression of free labor organizations, or its theft of American intellectual property. According to Clinton and related spirits, as China became more quasi-capitalist, it would become more democratic. Instead, China has become more of a dictatorship. And China’s mercantilist expulsion of American industry has only increased.
The toxic effect of US dependence on China became more visible with the supply chain crisis. As our colleague David Dayen reported, almost 100 percent of the containers used in sea shipping is made in China. The Biden administration has embraced the once-banned idea of industrial policy and promised to bring production back to America.
But try to bring this imperative to life in a political campaign so you can get out into treacherous waters. Tim Ryan, the frontrunner for the nomination of the Democratic Senate in Ohio, learned of this recently after running a campaign ad that did not put into words the economic threat from China.
“It’s us versus China,” Ryan says in the TV spot. The Staccato ad is one one minute assembly of former Ryan speakers, mostly to the blue-collar audience. The whole theme is the economic threat posed by China and the expulsion of Ohio workers.
The ad provoked a reaction from several Asian-American politicians and organizations, who mixed an attack on China’s politics and their effect on US industrial heartland with an attack on the Chinese as an ethnic group.
Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), Vice President of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, urged Ryan to stop sending it. Shekar Narasimhan, chairman of the AAPI Victory Fund, a super PAC, tweeted that Ryan’s ad “excites a racist pedagogy towards China and makes Americans of East Asian descent vulnerable to attack.”
This is a difficult area, especially at a time when hate crimes against Asians and Asian Americans have been on the rise. Donald Trump fueled this hatred by blurring the line between challenging China’s unacceptable trade strategies and engaging in xenophobic China bashing.
Given the consequences of Trump’s racism, are Ryan’s critics right? Did he cross a border?
Everything Ryan said in the ad is true, and nothing in the ad suggests external criticism of Chinese as an ethnic group. Numerous critics of China’s policy, who are themselves Asian Americans, both inside and outside the administration, have made similar criticisms.
Biden’s leading China hawk, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, is the daughter of Chinese immigrants. Does Tai excite “racist pedagogy towards China” and make “Americans of East Asian descent vulnerable to attack?” Almost.
The controversy raises the question of Jews and Israel. Those who oppose Israel’s colonialist policy toward Palestinians are routinely attacked as anti-Semitic, all the more violently if the critics themselves are Jews. In fact, Jews who are weary of criticizing the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian villages in the occupied territories are routinely described as “self-hating Jews.”
No serious person would call Ambassador Tai a self-hating Asian American. There is another dangerous similarity. When ultra-Zionists attack critics of Israel and suggest that Jews should defend Israel rightly or wrongly, they feed the myth of double loyalty – that Jewish Americans are unreliable patriots because their deeper loyalty is to another country. This attitude provides ammunition for real anti-Semites.
Israel tried to play the double loyalty card with American Jews when the Israeli government relentlessly fought for the release of Jonathan Pollard, a CIA intelligence analyst who pleaded guilty to spying for Israel in 1987, and received a life sentence. Pro-Israel American groups lobbied for Pollard’s release. Israel formally apologized to the United States, and Pollard was released in 2015. He promptly emigrated to Israel.
Similarly, China’s strategists have explicitly sought to recruit overseas Chinese as allies and agents of the regime. As I reported in this piece, at the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the Chinese Communist Party, through its United Front Work Department, sent an urgent appeal to get friendly Chinese around the world to buy PPEs and masks and send them to China. This request, combined with China’s dominance of production, exacerbated the shortage of this equipment early in the pandemic.
Like the vast majority of American Jews, the overwhelming majority of Asian Americans are completely loyal to the United States. But the claim that criticism of China is tantamount to racism against ethnic Chinese can backfire in the same way, especially when it comes to defending the Beijing regime.
Tobita Chow, a Canadian living in Chicago, has written numerous articles in left-wing publications such as During these times and The Guardian, defend the Beijing regime and its global policies and attack critics. Chow leads an organization called Justice Is Global, which is affiliated with the progressive national group People’s Action. One Chow piece was entitled “Anti-China Rhetoric Nourishes Anti-Asian Hatred.”
The reality is the opposite. Wrapping the Chinese regime’s apologies into the banner of anti-racism raises concerns about double loyalty. This is doubly challenging, as Xi’s government is trying to use Chinese scholars and students in the United States as agents of the regime, and the U.S. government must be careful not to use racial profiling.
Biden has handled this challenge well, more strategically focused scattershot China measures launched by Trump’s trade chief Robert Lighthizer to take on China’s illegal and harmful trade policies, while getting rid of Trump policies that are unfairly targeted Chinese Americans. In February, the Justice Department, after a three-month review, scrapped Trump’s 2018 “China Initiative,” aimed at Chinese or Sino-American researchers, in favor of a more general strategy to counter industrial and scientific espionage, regardless of its origins.
Under the Trump program are more than 20 academic researchers confronted accusations and accusations. Defendants were often charged with minor violations such as grant fraud or visa fraud, or lies to investigators, but federal prosecutors portrayed them as threats to national security. In most cases, the charges were eventually dropped.
Trump acted in bad faith as an economic nationalist. He deliberately blurred criticism of immigration policy with malicious anti-Mexican hate speech. He did the same with China. These tactics paradoxically undermined bona fide critics of Chinese mercantilism and neoliberal American China policy.
Trump aroused hatred and made Asian American groups rightly anxious. But advocacy companies do not promote the cause of tolerance when engaging in the same kind of blurring conversely.
In conclusion, we must be vigilant in resisting anti-Asian hatred – and determined to face China as a national security and industrial threat. The two questions must be kept separate.
As a note: The insulting Ryan ad was made by a company called Left Hook Strategyof which several of the partners are Asian American.