America’s Not So Hidden Asian Prejudices

Published on March 22, 2021, 12:22 pm
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Secretary of State Tony Blinken just spent the weekend unhappily meeting with his Chinese counterparts. Blinken saw his role as a noble American with a divinely inspired mission to make the world in America’s image. Like a schoolteacher reprimanding an unruly child he duly lectured his interlocutors on China’s perceived violation of American values.

Republican Senator Marsha Blackburn recently tweeted that “China has a five thousand year history of cheating and stealing.” Tony Blinken carries with him a special reality: The majority of white Americans do not like and do not trust East Asians (Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans, Japanese). Republican or Democrat, the majority of Americans all share the same distrust and antipathy.

Tony Blinken knows that if he supports hostile policies towards China, the majority of Americans will support him regardless of how stupid his policies might be. American investors in China have to worry that out of the blue some negative edict will come from Washington and the nation will support it. Oddly enough, when it comes to East Asia Wall Street is probably the least prejudiced.

This antipathy is reflected in the treatment of East Asians in the United States. The latest slaughter of six Korean women is not some isolated incident. An organization called Stop AAPI Hate documents 3,795 racially motivated attacks against Asian-Americans from last March to this February.

Many Americans would probably insist that they share no anti-Asian prejudice. But look at the history. American history records constant hostility to Asians:

  • Naturalization Act of 1790—Only Caucasians could become naturalized citizens. This Act (or its successors) was only repealed in the 1950s.;
  • Los Angeles Massacre of 1871 – 18-20 Chinese lynched. Lynchings of Chinese in the West Coast were not uncommon in the late 19th century.;
  • Page Act of 1875—designed to prevent the immigration of Chinese women.;
  • Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—Reflecting widespread hostility to Chinese immigrants in the West Coast, Chinese immigration to the US was barred.;
  • Gentleman’s Agreement with Japan 1904– President Theodore Roosevelt concluded an agreement with Japan effectively barring Japanese immigrants.;
  • Restrictive State Laws –Late 19th / early 20th century, numerous anti-Aian state laws were passed restricting rights to own property, segregation of schools, intermarriage with whites.;
  • Hostile Newspapers–Late 19th / early 20th century, tremendous hostility towards Chinese in US newspapers notably the Hearst publications. Notions of “Yellow Peril” and that Chinese were unassimilable and different.;
  • 120 Thousand Japanese Interned in Camps During WWII–62% were native born American citizens;
  • Special Mistreatment of Asian Americans During the McCarthy Era—The most notorious case is that of Qian Xuesen. who was deported largely because he was Chinese. (He later became the founder of the modern Chinese space program. America’s loss.);
  • 1982 Murder of Vincent Chin—Chin was mistaken for a Japanese by auto workers who were angry against Japanese auto companies;
  • 1992 Los Angeles Riots– Koreatown widely damaged. LA police declined to offer protection against rioters;
  • US President Donald Trump blamed China for Covid virus and effectively encouraged hostility against Asian Americans.

So Who’s Guilty of Genocide?

The dictionary defines genocide as “the deliberate killing of a large number of people from a particular nation or ethnic group with the aim of destroying that nation or group“. It is a very powerful word and it evokes images of horrific events, like the murder of the European Jews during WWII.

In his last day in office, the outgoing American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo labelled China’s treatment of its Uyghur population as “genocide”. Tony Blinkin endorsed Pompeo’s use of the word. All this without any shred of proof that China has engaged in any deliberate killing of the Uyghur population. Nobody in the US political spectrum seems to have questioned the use of this word. China is bad, therefore the genocide charge must be true.

The US is hardly the nation to be casting stones on the subject of genocide. If mass killing of civilians qualifies as genocide, the US has a comparative advantage. Think of the plight of the Native Americans since the arrival of the European colonists. Think of the millions of civilians killed by US bombs in Korea, Vietnam and Japan. Curtis LeMay, the American general in charge of the bombing of Japanese cities in WWII, admitted he would have been convicted as a war criminal had the US lost the war. Foreign Affairs Magazine recently ran an article on how the US partnership and support for the Saudi war in Yemen had brought about up to 250,000 civilian deaths in Yemen.

How To Deal With China

Regarding the US/China relationship, The Economist magazine has written that “An epic global contest between autocracy and liberal values lies ahead.” This statement sounds like something out of the 1950s. Yes since the days of Woodrow Wilson the US has wanted to impose its liberal values on the world. On behalf of this effort, it has to its credit a century of interventions and dead bodies in Asia and the Middle East.

But China since the ascendency of Deng Xiaoping in 1978 has given up any idea of imposing its system on other countries. China’s autocratic nominally communist system works for China and is based on historical, geographic, sociological and genetic facts peculiar to China. The system cannot be exported and the Chinese know it.

Consider the issues the US seems to worry about with China—Uyghurs, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Tibet, the South China Sea. With the partial exception of the tech wonder of Taiwan, all these are basically Chinese domestic or border issues. China has no such similar interest in US domestic affairs.

The world would be in a better place if the super imaginative, super competitive US tech world could cooperate unfettered with the emerging Chinese powerhouse. US citizens would like to invest in the exciting Chinese economy without fear of punishment from Washington. US tech embargoes and efforts to keep out Chinese students are great leaps backward. Nothing but conflict lies ahead if China is automatically classified as the bad guy.

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Author, speaker, analyst and editor for The Dismal Optimist, a global macro economic blog.