Anti- Chinese Fervor and AAPI Hate

Many politicians and commentators jump on the opportunity to make blanket statements about the threat of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) to the United States and ignore the hateful attitudes they create. Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage (AAPI) month this May, we acknowledge the contributions and accomplishments made by members of the community and its rich and diverse cultures. However, as a Chinese American I also recognize racism fostered through anti-China rhetoric. The US response to Chinese international policy is broad, unspecific and carries harsh anti- Chinese sentiment. We must ensure that in protecting human rights on the world stage, we do not hurt those at home, specifically those of Chinese and East Asian descent who are vulnerable to attacks fueled by this dangerous rhetoric.  

As US-China relations grow more adversarial and competitive, increasing political focus on national and state levels is aimed at countering the threat of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). My intention is not to downplay the harm caused by the PRC, but rather highlight how the US response to the CCP is plagued with fear mongering and racism. During the 2020 pandemic President Donald Trump’s administration calling COVID-19 the “China virus” led to so much discrimination that the Biden administration released a memorandum acknowledging and condemning the direct harm that the rhetoric caused. Still, Sinophobia has seeped into many levels of government.  

Last year, my high school’s Chinese Language program came under attack from a school board member who opposed the funding of the curriculum due to fear of CCP indoctrination. Many of my peers who had taken Chinese were astonished by this claim and balked at the idea of canceling a language program due to what appeared to be political theater and Sinophobia. According to The Hill, “state legislatures proposed or adopted more than 100 pieces of anti-China legislation between 2020 and 2022, up fourfold from the 2017 to 2019 period.” In Oklahoma, proposed anti- China legislation includes bills like Senate Bill 955 which make it a felony for a former member of the PRC government or CCP to own land in the state and forces them to receive permission from state government leaders and the US congressional delegation to enter the state. Other notable proposed legislation includes the creation of a commission to investigate the influence of the Chinese government in Oklahoma, and another draws on fears of the PRC social credit system to ban the creation of one in the state. On a federal level, Oklahoma Senator James Lankford has co-sponsored the Security and Oversight of International Landholdings (SOIL) Act which creates more oversight into how foreign governments like those of China and Russia purchase agricultural land. This bill however inflates the threat of a Chinese presence given that Chinese investors own less than one percent of foreign owned acreage across the US, even more, some fear that this kind of legislation could lead to immigrants being denied land due to ethnicity. 

The vague language of the bills perpetuates the idea of an omnipresent threat from the Chinese. The paranoia created has led to devastating consequences: the organization Stop AAPI Hate collected around 3,800 reports of racially motivated incidents between March 2020 and February 2021. Furthermore, USA Today has reported this year that four in five Asian Americans do not feel like they belong in the US and more than half feel unsafe in public spaces. Protecting our country from foreign threats should not come at the cost of the AAPI community in the US. I understand and largely support the need to counter the authoritarian regime of the PRC, but I object to the fear mongering tactics used by politicians trying to gain popularity. I worry this message will be interpreted by some as a call to violence and hurt my community. The US must collaborate with AAPI and specifically Chinese American advocates to create a response to threats from the PRC that does not exacerbate the discrimination already experienced in our community.