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Dark time in US history rearing its head again

By Julie Tang and Lillian Sing | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-05-31 09:08
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A protester disrupts a hearing of a special House committee dedicated to countering China, on Capitol Hill in Washington on Feb 28, 2023. [Photo by Kevin Dietsch Via AFP]

We are retired Chinese American judges with roots in China. We have spent most of our lives working in the legal system of the United States, rendering justice and fairness to those who appear before us as we adhere to the US and state constitutions, the rule of law, and state and local legal processes in our work.

We understand the importance of good US-China relations, as they affect our lives here in the US. We believe that unless the US resets its current hostile agenda against China, Chinese Americans will continue to have tough times ahead.

In the 1950s, during the McCarthy era, the US targeted the Soviet Union and China under a red-baiting hysteria about potential spies. Many Chinese Americans were arrested, incarcerated and subjected to deportation. Their only crime was that they were Chinese.

Today, we see this dark history being repeated.

Facing economic and social problems in the US, then president Barack Obama adopted the Pivot to Asia policy in 2011, targeting China's rise with a containment policy of military expansion and economic isolation. Former president Donald Trump blamed the coronavirus on China to mask his incompetence, and he cast China as America's No 1 enemy. This strategy was followed by a racist and ugly blame game called the "China Initiative", started in 2018 by FBI Director Christopher Wray, who publicly proclaimed that China constituted a "whole-of-society threat" to the US.

The 2018 initiative targeted Chinese American scientists for prosecution as spies, as in the cases of Anming Hu at the University of Tennessee, Professor Xiaoxing Xi at Temple University in Philadelphia, Gang Chen of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and hydrologist Sherry Chen. Their cases were all dismissed for insufficient evidence. Like the McCarthy era, the initiative was based on racial profiling and guilt by association. It became a crime to be "researching while Chinese". In 2020, the initiative was officially terminated, even though the FBI made clear that it will continue the same policy but under a different name — The Initiative.

Today, we are greatly alarmed and concerned that Texas, South Carolina and 11 other US states are proposing or have passed bills to ban citizens or entities of countries including China, Russia, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and Iran from buying property or real estate. Some of these bills were amended to exempt those who are permanent US residents. However, under the bills, every ethnic Chinese person in these states, including US-born citizens, would need to prove citizenship when they buy real property or land. Legislation that classifies and denies people constitutional guarantees of rights to purchase land by race and ethnic origin are racist and xenophobic and cannot be allowed.

Soon, all states in the US may be subjected to these racist laws, because the US Congress is now proposing rules to ban Chinese citizens, or anyone associated with China, from buying agricultural land or real estate anywhere in the US.

The sponsors of this legislation claim to address concerns about national security, a catchall phrase to override the guarantees of US freedom and democracy, the same rationale that placed 120,000 Japanese Americans in internment camps during World War II. History has shown that incarceration of Japanese Americans was wrong. The US has apologized and paid reparations to the Japanese Americans who were victims of this practice.

But listen to what proponents of the new legislation are saying.

Mark Rubio, one of the most hawkish of the anti-China US senators, said he wanted to prevent China from becoming the world's dominant power.

US Senator Katie Britt agreed, saying, "The US needs to step up to treat China as our greatest strategic challenge." Other senators joined in, calling China the greatest geopolitical and national security threat and an adversary.

The US Congress today is fueled by anti-China hysteria. Chinese Americans are susceptible to wholesale hatemongering against China that trickles down to random attacks against Chinese Americans and other Asian Americans, who are often mistaken for being Chinese.

According to a report from Stop AAPI Hate, which tracks incidents of hate and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States, approximately 11,500 such hate incidents were reported from March 2020 to March 2022 during the COVID-19 pandemic. The California Attorney General's Hate Crime report indicated that while overall hate crime events in California increased by 32.6 percent from 2020 to 2021, anti-Asian bias increased by 177.5 percent.

The US is no longer a safe place for Chinese Americans. We must educate the public and influence policymakers to restore America as a better and safer place for everyone. A good US-China relationship is the only guarantee that Chinese and Asian Americans can enjoy safety, peace and prosperity in our country.

We would like to remind the likes of Senator Rubio that America is not just your land, but our land too.

The authors are retired San Francisco Superior Court judges, co-chairs of the Comfort Women Justice Coalition and founding members of Pivot to Peace. The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily.

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