Anti-China is not anti-Asian

Moreover, there is no research-based evidence that American lawmakers’ legitimate criticism of Beijing has a causal effect on violence against Asians. In fact, Washington’s political rhetoric has been rising steadily over the past half decade, during which Beijing built the Uyghur internment camps, demolished Hong Kong’s democracy and chipped away at the liberal international order. Anti-Asian attacks remained rare during this whole period, soaring only when the pandemic hit. If China had contained covid-19 within its borders, or if the United States had succeeded in keeping it out, no amount of congressional criticism against Beijing would have made us afraid to ride the subway at night.

While racism is always an ingredient in hate crimes, it seems that the central cause of the current epidemic of anti-Asian violence is resentment at the pandemic’s staggering toll. Perpetrators’ combustible anger — at losing their jobs, homes and family members to the plague — is being unleashed on a scapegoat partly because China has not been held to account. To date, Beijing has not apologized for its mishandling of the outbreak that turned a local disaster into a global catastrophe. An apology from the Chinese government will bring some closure to the millions of people ruined by the pandemic and reduce their collective rage far more quickly than a muzzling of U.S. foreign policy discourse.

But while we wait for that apology — which might never come — we all have to speak up.