“Violence against Asian Americans is on the rise.” It is a hard-to-miss headline that has been plastered across news sites, Twitter feeds and Instagram stories for the past few weeks. From coast to coast, violence against Asian Americans in the United States is becoming increasingly prevalent.
For many, Asian American or not, this hardly comes as a surprise. What do we expect after hearing former President Trump blaming the “China virus” for a painful year full of lost jobs, seemingly indefinite quarantines and, yes, lost loved ones? Others like Tucker Carlson embarked on disinformation campaigns, arguing outlandish and debunked theories, including that COVID-19 was manufactured in a Chinese lab as a bioweapon. And while much of the recent political rhetoric has revolved around China, anti-Asian hate crimes have targeted much wider swaths of people, including Southeast Asian Americans.
While Trump and his counterparts are a significant instigator of such hatred, they are not the sole explanation behind the rise of anti-Asian American sentiment. Rather, recent events mark the fallout from the geopolitical shift we have seen with the rise of China as a growing power in the international landscape. China has become public enemy number one, and no one wants to be weak on China — something very apparent during the 2020 election.
As Trump’s campaign bore down on Biden for “40 years of being wrong about China,” the Biden administration countered with its own advertisement, slamming the Trump administration for being soft towards China. While the rhetoric in Biden’s message targeted Trump’s hypocrisy, the video was rounded out with ominous music and stock videos of Chinese people buzzing around airports and cities.
History is repeating itself in more ways than one. In France, the anti-Asian concept of Yellow Peril was explicitly revived when a French newspaper published a “Yellow Alert” headline alongside an image of a Asian woman wearing a mask. A recent report by the Asian American Bar Association and law firm Paul, Weiss compared the link between COVID-19 and hate crimes to the 9/11 attacks and the violence against Americans of South Asian and Middle Eastern descent. If we are to learn from history, we can be assured that such anti-Asian American sentiment will not cease once the pandemic is under control.
I do not deny that the Chinese government bears responsibility for its actions and failures, especially in the early days of the pandemic. And in an ironic twist, the Chinese government has also spun out condemnable Tucker Carlson-esqe conspiracy theories that the coronavirus was brought to China by the U.S. military.
But to say that anti-Asian prejudice is merely a response to China’s shortcomings during the pandemic would be as fallacious as arguing that American military intervention in the Middle East was solely in response to the events of Sept. 11. Yes, it may have been a component, but America’s geopolitical and economic interests involving the Middle East, and now China, extend far beyond these two events.
There are bigger things going on: the United States is arguably facing a new primary adversary in our modern geopolitical landscape. In fact, Biden’s National Security Council even created a new position, “Indo-Pacific coordinator,” to be filled by Kurt Campbell, the man largely responsible for shaping former President Obama and former Secretary of State Clinton’s “Pivot to Asia” strategy. Likewise, the new Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, has indicated his feelings that China is undoubtedly America’s most significant challenge today. It is obvious that addressing China is becoming one of the few remaining areas for bipartisan agreement in our country.
Still, it is difficult to clearly define a line around realms of policy. Foreign policy is domestic policy. Our rhetoric around China has severe implications for Asian Americans, Chinese or not, in the United States. We know this from the numerous instances in history when Asian Americans have been targeted, excluded and assaulted as a result of international events like World War II.
That being said, the Biden administration has already made a meaningful effort in this balancing act between foreign policy and domestic policy — far more than the Trump administration ever did — with an early executive action targeting bias in the COVID-19 response while encouraging the Department of Justice to combat anti-Asian harassment. And while efforts to secure an Asian American cabinet secretary were unsuccessful, Asian Americans like Neera Tanden and Katherine Tai are represented in Biden’s greater cabinet. We also have our first Asian American vice president.
Still, we must continue to reckon with the ways in which our foreign policy has deep-seated implications back home, especially for immigrants.
Anti-Asian discriminiation and violence in the wake of COVID-19 is not an isolated incident; it is just the first example of how America’s China policy has come home to roost. But no matter how the U.S.-China battle for power goes, we cannot allow ourselves, our parents, our grandparents and our community to be collateral damage.
AIDEN LEE is a rising senior in Pauli Murray college. His column, “It’s Complicated”, runs every other Wednesday. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.