How will harsh anti-China rhetoric and policy impact Asian Americans?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
Last week, in a rare show of bipartisan support, the U.S. Senate voted 68-32 to pass bill S.1260, United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021. Originally the Endless Frontier Act, the bill seeks to challenge China’s technological advances with an investment of about $250 billion in science and technology development and infrastructure.
The bill is a massive 1445 pages, with input from six Senate subcommittees and 616 amendments. It creates a technology and innovation division at the National Science Foundation; invests in research such as artificial intelligence, high performance computing, and advanced manufacturing; establishes a regional technology hub program; domestically manufactures semiconductors and telecommunications technology; restricts funding for universities with partnerships with China; and more. The bill goes to the U.S. House of Representatives next.
"The premise is simple, if we want American workers and American companies to keep leading the world, the federal government must invest in science, basic research and innovation, just as we did decades after the Second World War," said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y. "Whoever wins the race to the technologies of the future is going to be the global economic leader with profound consequences for foreign policy and national security as well."
However, some are concerned that the bill’s emphasis on beating China is xenophobic, detrimental to a good working partnership needed for addressing global issues like climate change, and potentially dangerous for Asian Americans, especially Asian American scientists.
“We need to distinguish between justified criticisms of the Chinese government’s human rights record and a Cold War mentality that uses China as a scapegoat for our own domestic problems and demonizes Chinese Americans,” said Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn).
“We cannot achieve social, economic, and racial justice – or combat the current anti-Asian sentiment, for that matter – when Senate Democratic leaders, the elected officials whose leadership we look towards, are actively legislating policy that positions the United States in a pseudo-Cold War against the ‘malign’ influence of China,” said Michelle Liang, Policy Manager of National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC) in a statement criticizing how a pseudo-Cold War against China contributes to McCarthyist, racist stereotypes about Asian Americans. “Unity achieved through the utilization and codification of racist stereotypes is not true national unity.”
China made similar investments in technology and infrastructure several years ago, which Washington decried. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters, "We firmly object to the United States seeing China as an imaginary enemy."
“1990 Institute is concerned that the anti-China framing of this bill could cause US-China relations to deteriorate further, as well as cause increased anti-Asian American violence and discrimination,” said 1990 Institute Board of Directors Chair Dan Chao. “We should all keep an eye on this bill as it progresses.”