Category: US-China Relations

The Dangerous Historical Context of Trump’s ‘Chinese Virus’

By , March 27, 2020

Donna Chiu (front & center) at a housing rights protest

Donna Chiu has dedicated most of her life to fighting for vulnerable New Yorkers.  A petite, Chinese-American woman with a quick smile and contagious laugh, you would never think she would be able to take on some of New York City’s sleaziest landlords.  But within the dark, dingy halls of New York City’s housing courts, she transforms into a pit bull, aggressively fighting for her clients, low-income tenants, and holding landlords responsible for their illegal practices.

But Chiu has a new villain to fight – the anti-Asian sentiment that is on the rise in the United States as a result of Covid-19 and a President who seems to take sick pleasure in constantly referring to the pandemic as “the Chinese virus.”  Since Covid-19 has hit the shores of the United States, anti-bias crimes and incidents against Asian Americans have increased according to The World Journal, a Chinese language newspaper based in New York.  In fact, since March 18, when President Trump doubled down on his use of the term “Chinese virus,” The World Journal has published an article almost every single day on bias crimes and incidents against Asian Americans in New York City.  Perhaps even more telling are the wechat groups and Asian-American focused websites like Angry Asian Man that are awash in conversations about the increase in anti-Asian incidents and crimes.

“I have not been a target myself,” Chiu told me when I asked her about the impact of Trump’s constant reference to Covid-19 as the Chinese virus. But she was quick to tie Trump’s remarks to increasing xenophobia, explaining how it has changed her day-to-day life: “[It] has made me not go to certain places or enter certain stores because now I view it as a serious risk to my safety; I stay alert when I was still riding the train and try to avoid eye contact with strangers and walk swiftly – all ad hoc measure to avoid being a target.”

For Janelle Wong, a professor of American Studies at the University of Maryland, blaming Chinese people for Covid-19 was no surprise.  When I asked Wong about her take on the increase of bias-related crimes against Asian Americans, she quickly put it in a historical perspective, going back to the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, one of the United States’ most exclusionary laws.  “Part of the justification for the exclusion was the idea that the Chinese were vectors of disease” Wong told me, sharing a cartoon from the time period to prove her point.  In that cartoon – cover art for the May 1882 issue of the aptly-name magazine “The Wasp” – three skeleton-faced ghosts, one named malaria, one named smallpox and one named leprosy, ominously float over the city of San Francisco.  The source for these menacing zombies?  Chinatown as the cartoon makes clear in the lower right hand corner.  The message?  Exclusion of the Chinese is the only way to save the city.

“It’s long been a trope that is easily used . . . but it’s been a while since a national leader has drawn [upon it],” Wong went on.  “That is what is shocking.”

When questioned on his use of the term “Chinese virus,” Trump denies that it has any racial animus.  For Trump, simply because the virus comes from China, it should be called “the Chinese virus.”  He ignores the World Health Organization’s (WHO) repeated instructions to avoid using country names as the name of an infectious disease so as to prevent bias against groups of people.

Make no mistake, Covid-19 did come from China. And there are many aspects of the Chinese government’s handling of the outbreak that put the world at greater peril.  It suppressed doctors from freely speaking about the virus which prevented the world from knowing earlier of the outbreak.  And, even though the Chinese government had to know that human-to-human transmission was occurring by the end of December, when almost every day it saw the number of Covid-19 patients double according to government data leaked to the South China Morning Post, it denied such transmission until January 20, 2020.

Prof. Janelle Wong

Would the Trump Administration have used that extra time to better prepare the country to fight Covid-19, say by preparing sufficient tests or ensuring that hospitals had sufficient protective gear to get them through a possible pandemic?  If current history is any guide, where we are all still anxiously awaiting widespread testing and our doctors and nurses are reusing face masks, likely not.

But still, Trump needs someone to blame for his gigantic missteps that are currently putting the lives of tens – if not hundreds – of thousands of Americans at risk.   For Wong, getting many Americans to follow the script of China bashing is easy. Which means, given our history, that Asian Americans will inevitably be targets.  Initially, Trump denied that his words would fuel anti-Asian crimes.  But on Monday night, after a plethora of Democratic politicians, civil rights groups and average Americans condemned Trump for using “Chinese virus,” Trump attempted to walk back some of his words, tweeting that Asian Americans are “amazing” people and that spreading the virus was not their fault.

But likely that tweet won’t be enough to put the racist genie back the bottle.  And, as Wong explained to me, this objectification yet again makes Asian Americans feel that they are forever the foreigner; that true belonging in the United States remains unattainable to non-whites, even those who may have achieved some modicum of economic success.  Those doubts were exactly what attorney Chiu was wrestling with when I talked to her.  “It doesn’t change a topic/issue that I’ve always struggled with  – which is what are Chinese-Americans place in America? Are we second class citizens just like the way we are treated?  And then with Covid-19. . . .I feel the climate is one where Chinese-Americans are not allowed to ‘feel bad’ for themselves because we are the cause of all this.”

Trump’s Call with Taiwan: A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall?

By , January 2, 2017

U.S. President-elect Donald Trump (left) and Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen

Every four years, leaders from around the world call the newly-elected president of the United States, congratulating him on winning his country’s election.  Although a quaint custom, there is a lot of backroom dealing that goes on before the two leaders talk: staff has to ensure that it isn’t a prank, that translators are on hand if necessary, and that an agenda and time is appropriately set.

But one thing that never happens is a congratulatory phone call between a U.S. president-elect and the President of Taiwan.  That is because for the past 40 years, the U.S. has not recognized Taiwan as a separate country; to take an official phone call from the President of Taiwan signals a possible change in the United States’ “one-China policy,” potentially inciting the anger of the People’s Republic of China (“Mainland China,” “China” or “PRC”), and potentially undermining the tense status quo between Mainland China and Taiwan.

Hotline Bling! President-elect Trump on the phone (photo courtesy of CNN.com)

And that is why President-elect Donald Trump’s decision, on December 2, to accept a phone call from Tsai Ing-wen, the current president of Taiwan, was such a shock and front page news across the globe.  Although originally downplayed by his transition team, Trump doubled-down only a few days later where, in an interview with Fox News, he stated that he doesn’t “know why we have to be bound by a One-China policy unless we make a deal with China having to do with other things. . . .”

But if Trump is sincerely thinking that such a policy shift would benefit Taiwan or thinking that this is a good way to strong arm Mainland China on other issues, he will likely be proven dead wrong. Toying with China about Taiwan is not going to give the U.S. the upper hand in its relations with China. For almost 70 years, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has tied its legitimacy to the eventual reunification of Taiwan with the Mainland. For the U.S. to make overtures that it might abandon the one-China policy goes to the heart of the CCP’s rule.  Because of this, the CCP will not respond lightly – nor necessarily in accordance with what we think might be rational – to President-elect Trump’s public insinuations of a shift in the one-China policy.

The Creation and Evolution of the One-China Policy

1971 PRC Propaganda Poster: “We will definitely liberate Taiwan!”

The one-China policy is not the brain child of the United States.  Rather, it is a concept created in 1949, after the Chinese Civil War, by the leaderships of both Mainland China and Taiwan.  Up until 1949, Mainland China, of which Taiwan was a part, was called the Republic of China (“ROC”) and was ruled by the Kuo Mintang party (“KMT”), under the leadership of Chiang Kai-shek.  But on October 1, 1949, the CCP gained control of Mainland China, establishing the People’s Republic of China (“PRC”) and the KMT and its supporters fled to the island of Taiwan.

On Taiwan, Chiang Kai-shek and the KMT re-established the Republic of China. Both the CCP and the KMT agreed there was only one China, a China that includes the Mainland and Taiwan; both agreed that eventually the Mainland and Taiwan would be re-united. Where the two states differed was to which was the legitimate leader of this phantom one-China.  For the KMT, the ROC in Taiwan was the legitimate China with the mainland consisting of renegade provinces that would eventually be re-united under KMT rule.  For the CCP, the opposite held true: it was the PRC that was the legitimate government, Taiwan was a wayward province that would eventually be re-united with the mainland under CCP rule.

U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Chinese President Deng Xiaoping sign the accords where the US switches recognition to the PRC

Because of the CCP and KMT’s one-China concept, the rest of the world had to choose “one China” to recognize and establish diplomatic ties. Neither Taiwan nor the Mainland would allow a country to recognize both Chinas. Like most things during the Cold War, the choice was political.  Between 1949 and the early 1970s, almost all western, democratic countries recognized the ROC on Taiwan as China and most communist countries recognized the PRC on the mainland as legitimate China.

By the early 1970s, things began to change and in 1979, the United States switched its formal diplomatic recognition to the PRC.  As a result, the United States cut off all official diplomatic relations with Taiwan, closing its embassy in Taipei.

But only official diplomatic ties were severed.  The United States continued to maintain strong economic and military ties with Taiwan.  In fact, to show that the United States was not completely abandoning Taiwan, in 1979, Congress passed the Taiwan Relations Act.  The Act didn’t just create the American Institute in Taiwan (“AIT”), a non-profit organization, funded by the U.S. government and serving as a de facto embassy in Taipei, it also, by committing the U.S. to make available “defense articles and defense services,” tied U.S. military support to the island.  Since the passage of the Act, the United States has sold over $30 billion in defensive military arms to Taiwan; $14 billion of that has been under the Obama Administration.

For Mainland China, the One-China Policy Is Not A Joke

For Mainland China, the belief that Taiwan is an indispensable part of China and will eventually be re-united is sacrosanct. It is the line the CCP has been propagating to its people since 1949 and which the majority of the Chinese people believe. Enshrined in preamble to the PRC Constitution is the notion that Taiwan is an inalienable part of the PRC and will be re-united with the Mainland. Every time relations between Taiwan and another country gets too cozy, the CCP, through the state-run media, vehemently criticizes the offending nation for interfering in their internal affairs.

As China’s economy continues to lag, the CCP’s promise of constant economic property for its people is undermined, making its nationalist promises of a one-China even more necessary to fulfill. For the CCP, failure to fulfill that promise threatens its rule.  And the CCP has no interest in relinquishing its rule.

But for the Taiwanese people, the concept of one China has evolved especially as the KMT has lost its complete control of the island’s political system.  From 1949 to the early 1990s, Taiwan was a one-party country, with the KMT and its allegiance to the one-China policy, in control.  However, starting in the mid 1990s, a new political party emerged on Taiwan, the Democratic Progressive Party (“DPP”).  The DPP rejects the idea of a one-China.  It even rejects the idea of a two-China.  Instead, it maintains that Taiwan has become a separate country and culture, distinct from Mainland China.  For the DPP, there is only one China, the Mainland, and then there is Taiwan.

Taiwanese protesters who oppose the One China Policy

In 2000, when DPP candidate Chen Shui-bian won the presidency, the CCP grew fearful.  With the increased stature of the DPP in Taiwan and the fact that it can win national elections, China has built up its military to be capable of dealing with Taiwan if the country should ever publicly repudiate the one-China policy and change its laws to establish the independent country of Taiwan.  After Chen won a second term in 2004, the CCP decided to make its intentions more clear.  In 2005, the CCP passed a new law – the Anti-Secession Law – exclusively about the Taiwan situation.  While it continues to call for the peaceful reunification of the Mainland with Taiwan, Article 8 of the Anti-Secession Law makes it clear that China will use force if Taiwan declares its independence.  In 2015, the CCP passed the National Security Law, a sweeping law that seeks to expand and reinforce China’s international reach.  Article 11 mentions sovereignty over Taiwan.

While the Taiwanese people have elected a DPP president in 2000, 2004 and then again with current President Tsai in 2015, the Taiwanese repeatedly prefer to maintain the status quo in their relationship to the Mainland.

The Trump Call Is More Than A Phone Call

Taiwanese protesters supporting the One China Policy

It is within this powder keg – two entities armed to the teeth, one voting in an “independence party” and the other feeling insecure with its economic slowdown – that President-elect Trump decided to accept Taiwan President Tsai’s call, feigning ignorance that the call was somehow not monumental. Not surprisingly, China’s reaction was quick and angry.  But in ways, less so toward the U.S. than to Taiwan. In an op-ed in the state-run Global Times, the CCP reminded Taiwan that it would not hesitate to “punish” Taiwan and that Taiwan must pay the price if it breaks the status quo.

True the one-China policy is increasingly a rotten deal for Taiwan, especially as China seeks to use its might to squeeze Taiwan out of important international organizations and meetings, including meetings held recently by the U.N. and Interpol. And there might be reasons to re-calibrate some of the customs surrounding the one-China policy.  Currently, the Taiwan Travel Act, which would permit officials from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (Taiwan’s de facto embassy in the U.S.) to conduct official business with the U.S. government, is pending before Congress. Additionally, last year Congress passed, and President Obama signed into law, a bill requiring the U.S. State Department to develop a strategy to obtain observer status for Taiwan at Interpol.  When President Tsai travels to Latin America this month, the Obama Administration has agreed, regardless of China’s protests, to grant her a “transit visa”, allowing her to meet with people while on U.S. soil. The U.S.’ continued advocacy to ensure Taiwan’s inclusion as an important international entity is not only a benefit to Taiwan but also a benefit to the rest of world as it permits an East Asian state with an democratically-elect government and vibrant civil society to serve as a counter-example to China.

But President-elect Trump’s December 2 call with President Tsai does not come off as a well thought out and effective means to bolster Taiwan’s place in the world.  Based on his follow-up interview with Fox News, the call appears to have been solely a strategy to anger Beijing in an attempt to work out a better trade deal for the U.S.  But Taiwan – and the one-China policy – is too essential of an issue for the CCP to simply bargain for as if this is a mere business deal.

If Trump continues to carelessly trifle with the one-China policy, it will be Taiwan and its people that will bear China’s initial wrath. But with the U.S.’ ostensible obligation under the Taiwan Relations Act to support Taiwan defensively, it could very well be American lives that are also at stake.

For a thoughtful rebuke of President-elect’s phone call with President Tsai, please read former American Institute in Taiwan senior official and China expert Richard Bush’s “Open Letter to Donald Trump on the One-China Policy”: https://www.brookings.edu/blog/order-from-chaos/2016/12/13/an-open-letter-to-donald-trump-on-the-one-china-policy/

Running on Empty? A Missing Assistant Secretary of State

By , April 8, 2013

Is anyone else confused as to why the position of Assistant Secretary of State for East Asia and Pacific Affairs remains empty?  Especially as North Korea all but prepares for war?  Two months after its former occupant – Kurt Campbell – stepped down on February 8, 2013, Secretary Kerry – who was sworn in on February 1 – has yet to fill the position.  True former Deputy Assistant Secretary Joseph Yun has capably stepped in, but the question remains – what signal are you giving to the region, especially North Korea, when you don’t officially fill the position?

Hopefully Secretary Kerry is feeling the pressure.  But who will fill the spot?  Here are some names that have been mentioned by others:

  • Joseph Yun – the current Acting secretary and former Deputy Assistant Secretary, of Korean descent and familiar with the issues on the Korean peninsula.
  • Daniel Russel – currently the National Security Council (NSC) Director for Asian Affairs.  While he started his career as a Japan guy, arguably you can’t be NSC Director for Asian Affairs without knowing alot about the Korean peninsula and problems with China.
  • Frank Jannuzi – currently head of Amnesty International’s Washington office, but has decades of experience in DC policy circles, serving close to ten years in the State Department’s Bureau of Intelligence and Research and then 15 years as the policy director of East Asia and Pacific Affairs on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

Out of these three names, Jannuzi would likely be the best pick.  And not just because China Law & Policy is partial to policy makers who are North Korea's increasingly belligerent behavior China hands (and speak Mandarin).  China will always be the big issue in the region, and Jannuzi likely has the most intimate knowledge of the country.  But he has also long served as an important and knowledgeable resource on North Korea.  Not to mention, that he served as a staffer on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee while Kerry was a Senator on the Committee (and eventually Ranking member).  To the extent that Kerry is looking for someone he already knows and can trust, that would be Jannuzi.

Jannuzi would be also be an exciting pick because of what the choice would signal to China’s new leadership.  Jannuzi would come back to government after serving at Amnesty International, a very active human rights group that has long been a thorn in China’s side.  Such a choice would  subtly indicate to China that human rights will continue to be on the agenda.

But in looking at the possible nominees and the current senior officials of the Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, a truly inspiring pick would be a woman.  Out of the eleven senior officials listed on the Bureau’s website, only one currently is a woman.

Prof. Susan Shirk

And that’s why we think there is a good possibility that Susan Shirk – even though she is in academia – is in the running.  Shirk is a professor of political science out at UC-San Diego.  She has also long been an influential thinker on China.  China: Fragile Superpower altered the way that many policymakers viewed China.  Similar to Jannuzi, her knowledge of China comes from a longstanding relationship with the country and its people.  She has had an important part in US-North Korea relations – she all but founded and continues to lead the Northeast Asia Cooperation Dialogue, a high-level official dialogue between the two countries.  Finally,  she has experience at State, serving as Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, and in seeing her speak on multiple occasions, she has command of a room that is astounding.  The question is – will she want to leave beautiful San Diego for DC?

The one person  we are not putting our money on – Dennis RodmanHis trip in March to North Korea was just plain bizarre.  Hanging out with Kim Jong Un without even acknowledge the suffering of millions of North Koreans at the regime’s hands was also extremely offensive.  That alone would put Rodman out of the running.  But more than anything, do we really want an Assistant Secretary that can’t win at Celebrity Apprentice for a second time?

Call Me Maybe: Obama Telephones China’s New President

By , March 14, 2013

THE WHITE HOUSE

Office of the Press Secretary

________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

March 14, 2013

 

Readout of the President’s Phone Call with Chinese President Xi Jinping

 

The President called Chinese President Xi Jinping today to congratulate him on his new position and to discuss the future of the U.S.-China relationship. The President underscored his firm commitment to increasing practical cooperation to address Asia’s and the world’s most pressing economic and security challenges. Both leaders agreed on the value of regular high-level engagement to expand cooperation and coordination.  The President noted that Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew will visit China next week and that Secretary of State John Kerry will also visit Beijing in the coming weeks as part of his upcoming trip to Asia. The President highlighted the threat to the United States, its allies, and the region from North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs and stressed the need for close coordination with China to ensure North Korea meets its denuclearization commitments. President Obama welcomed China’s G-20 commitment to move towards a more flexible exchange rate, and he underscored the importance of working together to expand trade and investment opportunities and to address issues such as the protection of intellectual property rights. In this context, the President highlighted the importance of addressing cyber-security threats, which represent a shared challenge. The two leaders agreed to maintain frequent and direct communication.

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