Post op-ed: You can criticize China without being anti-Asian

Last month the Washington Post published a piece which argued that the recent spike in anti-Asian violence is tied directly to criticism of China. Here’s a sample of what the two authors of the piece wrote:

It’s too simple to blame Trump for what is happening. In the 1980s, officials from both parties cast Japan as the economic enemy; now it is China, one of the few issues about which Democrats and Republicans agree. And yes, it’s true that China is an extremely bad actor when it comes to espionage and human rights. But decades of official U.S. foreign policy and rhetoric from the pundit class have had a unique effect on Asian Americans. When the government frets about Russian hacking and election interference, there is little consequence for Americans of Russian heritage. 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. Most Americans are not skilled at distinguishing between people of different Asian origins or ancestries, and the result is that whenever China is attacked, so are Asian Americans as a whole…

Trump called China a “threat to the world” and advocated a hard economic line against the country, but even Biden has vowed to continue a tough stance. This includes an initiative that civil rights groups say opens the door to the racial profiling of Chinese American scientists by giving extra scrutiny to their tax records, visa applications and other documents. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin said this month that “China is our pacing threat.”

Read the whole piece if you’re so inclined. But this is the basic argument it’s making. China has jailed and reeducated a milliion minorities in Xinjiang, removed the last vestiges of genuine civil rights from 7.5 million people in Hong Kong, threatened Taiwan on an almost daily basis and militarized the South China Sea. But if you dare call them a “pacing threat,” you’re the problem.

Today the Washington Post published an op-ed by a PhD candidate at Columbia University named Tenzin Dorjee. His piece reads like a response to the argument above:

Some commentators are arguing that the U.S. foreign policy establishment’s criticism of the Chinese government is to blame for the domestic problem of anti-Asian violence. This specious claim, which China’s state-run media quickly exploited, has been most prominently advanced in the mainstream Western media by distinguished novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen and political scientist Janelle Wong, who claim that “bipartisan political rhetoric about Asia” and successive administrations’ “critical takes” on China fuel anti-Asian violence. This narrative, which weaponizes Asian American vulnerability to shield Beijing from international criticism, is as dangerous as it is fraudulent…

To be sure, criticism of the Chinese government by policymakers in Washington has escalated in recent years. But the overwhelming volume of the rhetoric targeting Beijing has been prompted not by abstract geopolitical competition but by tangible grievances, including China’s genocide in Xinjiang, intensifying repression in Tibet, dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong and sweeping crackdown on Chinese civil society. Some of Beijing’s harshest critics are Asian Americans. Uyghur refugees, Hong Kong democrats, Chinese dissidents and Tibetan exiles such as myself, whose communities back home reel under Beijing’s boot, are urging Congress to censure China for its crimes. Asking lawmakers of conscience to hold their tongue on Beijing’s genocide to supposedly prevent racial violence here is to set up a false trade-off between Asian American safety and Uyghur lives, both of which should be treated as nonnegotiable.

Moreover, there is no research-based evidence that American lawmakers’ legitimate criticism of Beijing has a causal effect on violence against Asians.

This last point is an important one and something people on the left are often eager to skip over when making sweeping claims about a climate of hate. Last month I wrote about two violent attacks on Asian Americans that happened in one day in New York City. One of the men was later arrested. He was living in a hotel for the homeless and had previously served time for killing his own mother. Does anyone think this man is a student of U.S. foreign policy?

Just yesterday a man in Brooklyn was arrested for three attacks on Asians starting on March 5. Joseph Russo is apparently a crack addict who was initially arrested for drug crimes. Again, do we need to tailor our response to cultural genocide in China with Joseph Russo in mind? It’s absurd to even suggest it.

Dorjee concludes his piece, “Instead of allowing one tragedy to silence another, we should pledge never to be silent bystanders, neither to hate crimes in this country nor to crimes against humanity abroad.” Even if it were true that speaking up about China’s abuses caused unintended problems here at home, it would still be the right thing to speak up. You can’t allow a deranged fringe of people committing irrational crimes to set the agenda for the nation.