Does criticism of China imperil Asian-Americans? A rash of recent commentary in the wake of last month’s shootings in Atlanta that killed eight people, six of them Asian women, makes that claim. But its factual basis is doubtful.
Columbia University historian Mae Ngai wants the U.S. to “pull back from treating China as an adversary.” In the Washington Post, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Viet Thanh Nguyen and Asian-American studies professor Janelle Wong argue: “When officials express fears over China or other Asian countries, Americans immediately turn to a timeworn racial script that questions the loyalty, allegiance and belonging of 20 million Asian Americans.” Journalist Peter Beinart warns that “if America’s leaders are serious about combating anti-Asian violence” at home, “they must stop exaggerating the danger that the Chinese government poses.”
Such arguments are deeply misguided. There is no contradiction between abhorring violence against Asian-Americans and criticizing a repressive regime that squelches human rights at home and undermines liberal democracy abroad. Most Americans are capable of making this elementary distinction. They make it every day.
How we approach this issue matters. China’s authoritarian system of government, economic heft and technological prowess make it the foremost challenger to the U.S.-led international order that has underwritten global peace and prosperity for more than seven decades. At the same time, Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders—some 19.3 million strong according to the Census Bureau—are America’s fastest-growing demographic group. Those who call on the U.S. to drop its criticism of China for the supposed well-being of Asian-Americans are asking Washington to enter a geopolitical boxing ring with one arm tied behind its back.
This plays into China’s hands. Like the Soviets in the Cold War, China’s Communists seek to exploit domestic divisions to weaken the U.S. In Alaska last month, China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, accused America of having “slaughtered” blacks, a transparent attempt to deflect attention from China’s horrific treatment of ethnic minorities, including Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. With its usual subtlety, the Communist Party-linked media outlet Global Times used the Atlanta killings to charge “brazen Western politicians, scholars, media and other China-haters who take advantage of the pandemic” with stoking “hate crime incidents” against Asian-Americans.
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