China Bashing Abroad Leads to Asian Bashing at Home

Rachel Hu Apr 1, 2021

Across the country in over 60 cities, thousands took to the streets on Saturday to demand an end to the anti-Asian violence and an end to China-bashing. The mainstream media continues to report the anti-Asian hate crimes as an isolated phenomenon that happen on an individual basis. Tepid calls for education, or inclusivity ignore the very fundamental core of the issue that anti-Asian hate crimes are a direct product of U.S. foreign policy. 

There are two reasons for this. The first reason being that these hate crimes are happening within the context of a long history of anti-Asian racism in America. The second being that the U.S. has recently used China, and by extension Chinese people, as a scapegoat for coronavirus to further its imperial agenda.

The Massacres that Made Chinatown

Anti-Asian racism in this country dates back to the mid-19th Century. Chinese immigrants first came to the U.S. during the California Gold Rush of the 1850s. An estimated 15,000-20,000 Chinese laborers later played a key role in building the first transcontinental railroad.  Within a few years, Chinese Americans were massacred in cities across the country when white racist mobs burned down homes and led violent rampages through communities. 

There were 150 documented cases of anti-Chinese riots that took place on the West Coast during the late 1800’s. These riots were so violent, that the federal government sent in troops to “protect” Chinese people, but ultimately these troops ended up seizing cash from residents and joining the violent mobs. 

One of the worst documented lynchings in U.S. history took place in Los Angeles in 1971 when 18 Chinese men were hanged to death in a single night. The development of Chinatowns went hand in hand with the racist massacres. They came to be safe havens for Chinese people that were being driven out of their homes through these heinous methods.

One of these methods was coined the “Tacoma Method” after Tacoma, Washington. The mayor of Tacoma was celebrated as a national hero for his method of herding Chinese Americans like cattle to train stations to drive them out. This was usually done through mass racist mobs that burned homes to the ground and dragged Chinese people out of their homes and into the streets. 

Racist Scapegoating is the First Step to War

Skip forward to today. Racism against Chinese people, and by extension Asian American people has re-emerged with a vengeance, not out of thin air, but because of political elites’ nonstop campaign to portray China as the new enemy number one. 

Take for example this Washington Post Headline from December, “ The election is Over. Can We finally blame China for the Pandemic?” This is one of many headlines that are blaring nightly. This kind of Anti-China propaganda is designed to stoke fear among the people of the U.S. to mentally prepare the population for a new cold war and possibly a hot one as well. 

Over the last decade, U.S. foreign policy that began under the Obama Administration as a “pivot to Asia” has shifted its military resources and focus to Asia We are seeing this shift in the news every night, and now we are seeing it play out in the 3,800 self-reported hate crimes across the country in the past year.

The development of Chinatowns went hand in hand with racist massacres.

Why has the U.S. set its sights on China? Simply put, it is because China has become extremely influential on the world stage and is the only other power that could seriously challenge U.S. supremacy. 

China’s economy is on track to overtake the U.S. economy in total size by 2028. Chinese companies now lead the world in many fields and Chinese technology is matching if not surpassing U.S. supremacy. Since the Soviet Union dissolved, no country has come close to challenging the global power of the United States, which now has over a thousand military bases scattered on every continent. 

However, a counterweight to this hegemony of U.S. business interests was growing. China was one of many countries that pursued its own path of development, resisting pressure from the U.S. to implement a neoliberal program and be a vassal for foreign business interests.

Through state-owned enterprises, careful regulation of foreign direct investment, and central planning on capital allocation, China’s economy developed rapidly to a point where China was no longer “the world’s sweatshop” but a leading world innovator of technology, green development, and transportation. 

While the United States was carpet bombing cities in an effort to crush independent governments and prop up U.S.-aligned client states, China developed projects that provided an alternative to Washington’s domination.

China Challenges U.S. Hegemony

In 2013, China unveiled the Belt and Road Initiative, a worldwide infrastructure project sometimes described as the most ambitious engineering project in human history. It aims to construct physical trade routes stemming from China to every continent. The project seeks to create a global community on the basis of mutual trade and cooperation, instead of the cruise missile diplomacy of the United States.

This world order based on more equitable trade lies in stark contrast with a world based on U.S. coercion, which is why 130 countries are already involved in the Belt Road Initiative.

More and more, countries closely allied with the United States are looking to China as a meaningful ally. Take Italy for example.

At one point, Italy was leading the world in coronavirus cases. Italy, a member of the European Union and NATO, received no assistance from their Western allies in this critical period. However, as one of the first and most enthusiastic European member-states of the Belt and Road Initiative, Italy received help from Chinese doctors and shipments of Chinese medical equipment.

So for those devoted to U.S. supremacy, the focus has been about how to cut down China’s rise. President Joe Biden even recently gave a speech where he stated that, “not on my watch” will China continue its economic development. This is outright naming the U.S.’s intentions. The Pentagon is hoping to put so much military and political pressure on China that they can halt or slow China’s rise as a leader in high-technology and as a world power.

This takes us back to where we started. The politicians and the media aren’t pointing fingers at China because they care about everyone that died during COVID or lost their job due to the coronavirus. They would rather make up accusations that China spread the virus rather than fix their own mistakes.

The long history of racism in the U.S. has always lumped Asian Americans together as one group of perpetual foreigners. Because of that, if the U.S. points it’s guns at Asia — and that is what is happening — then it will always mean racism for Asian Americans.

Anti-Asian racism has always been tied to US foreign policy. From Japanese internment to the attacks on South Asians after 9/11 Asian Americans have been routinely scapegoated as part of the process of war. In order to stop the anti-Asian violence, we must end the U.S. war drive on China and dismantle the U.S. war machine entirely.

From its inception, the United States was an imperialist nation fighting violent, colonial wars across the North American continent and then around the world. From the Vietnam War to the Korean war, or the conquest of the Philippines that remains a neo-colony to this day, millions of Asian people have been killed at the hands of the U.S. military.

The Path Forward for Anti-Racist Activists

There are only two paths ahead for Asian Americans and all those who care about the fight against racism. One path is we join in on the war effort and prove we are on the American side in that war, which has never worked well for us (think the Japanese 442nd infantry that won the most medals in war and still returned home to their families in camps). The second path we can take is the path where we say no to war fundamentally and fight to change U.S. foreign policy in Asia and around the globe. 

Whatever you think about China, the big problems facing humanity such as the climate, automation of jobs, etc. all these issues rely on a level of cooperation with China. Peace with China is a necessity to confront the major problems the world is facing. Anti-racist activists have a responsibility to think seriously about the role of the U.S. government in foreign policy and make the connections between racism at home and the U.S. policy abroad. Asian Americans have always been part and parcel of the anti-war movement because we have always seen the connections between the racism we face in the U.S. and the war crimes done to our Asian sisters, brothers, and family back home.

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