It’s been building in the U.S. for a while – antagonism toward China. Now, in the mid-term elections, that sentiment has found expression in dozens of Congressional and Senatorial campaigns which making China a target to gain political leverage. This includes both major parties’ electoral vehicles – the Democratic and Republican Senatorial and Congressional campaigns, not to speak of each individual campaign. With continuing high unemployment and other economic problems in the U.S., politicians have found an available scapegoat in China’s increasingly competition with the U.S.
The National Republican Congressional Committee are running ads featuring China against at least ten House Democrats. On the other pole, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee ran a TV ad in Pennsylvania last week attacking Republican candidate Pat Toomey. The lead-in was “Millionaire Pat Toomey may be right for China, but is dead wrong for Pennsylvania” with a gong sound and the red flag of the People's Republic of China. Later it notes Toomey's work for a Hong Kong tycoon a vote for special trading status with China that "cost us 2.4 million jobs." The Democratic candidate, Joe Sestak, has echoed that theme and included the gong.
What It Means
While political calculation may propel the current surge in anti-China rhetoric, Sino-phobic ideas are based in the American people’s long-term insecurity about the U.S.’s future. China’s three decade-long double-digit economic growth has created the U.S.’s first serious competitor since the end of World War II. Doubts about our ability to fend off China has led to a search for scapegoats.
Effect on Asian Americans
The conditions for China’s rise and the decline of the U.S. show no signs of diminishing in the foreseeable future. And of the racial groups, Asian Americans are most affected by U.S. foreign relations with their ancestral countries - remember the Japanese American internment and the McCarthy period for Chinese Americans. The search for scapegoats for that decline will continue – just as the Tea Party movement has targeted immigrants and liberals. In the 80's during the rise of the Japan bubble that made Japan look as a serious competitor to the U.S., Toyotas were publicly destroyed and autoworkers murdered Vincent Chin. The current building anger will become directed toward Chinese Americans, and any Asians that the “man on the street” fails to distinguish from Chinese Americans.
This may mean greater divisions among non-Chinese Asian Americans as they distance themselves from Chinese Americans. Based on the experience after 9/11, however, when Asian American groups rallied around Muslims, that is probably unlikely.
What Should Asian Americans Do?
Asian Americans and Chinese Americans need to build relations and other movements that are excluded from the current angry, white drift – communities of color, youth, immigrant, gay and other groups. The Asian American participation in the immigrant rights movement, while growing, has been lagged. Asian Americans, who have advanced more than other racial groups in the U.S. must broaden its concerns and interest.
Second, while there's political space, we need to speak out forcefully against blaming China for the U.S.'s misfortunes. China has primarily played by the rules laid out by the neoliberal agenda - no better or worse than the U.S. We gave Wall Street and Corporations a free pass for this current Great Recession. We need to speak up while we can and for our own sake.
Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee (DSCC)'s ad about Pat Toomey
Democrat Sestak's gong echo ad about Pat Toomey
The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC)'s ads about Democrat Congressional candidates - Reps. Zack Space (Ohio), Chris Carney (Pa.),Baron Hill (Ind.), Glenn Nye (Va.), Mike McIntyre (N.C.), Kathy Dahlkemper (Pa.), Mark Schauer (Mich.), Tim Walz (Minn.), Phil Hare (Ill.)
Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee ad about Bob Schilling (Ill.)