At the risk of excessive navel-gazing, a commentary on what responsibilities Asian-Americans have in calling out China. An Econbrowser reader writes:
[D]o I think Menzie is a China apologist? No. Do I think Menzie is thoroughly intimidated by China? Absolutely.
But he is hardly alone in this.
Nevertheless, there is a bigger picture. If China follows trend, if this trend leads to open conflict with the US, then Menzie will regret not having taken a more public and determined stand to argue for democracy in China. As I have stated: Our best hope for China’s peaceful rise to superpower status is the rapid development of that country’s internal democracy.
This conversation began because this same reader criticized my banning a commenter on the basis of the use of the term “China virus”. My view was that this was racist and xenophobic, falling under the exclusion conditions of the blog commenting policy. See discussion here.
I’m all for more democracy in China. However, as an American (I guess I don’t need to say it, but for full disclosure, born in the geographical borders of the United States), I don’t think the fact I haven’t made a public call for democracy in China implies I’m intimidated by China, any more than the fact that I’ve never made a public call for democracy in Russia means I’ve been intimidated by Russia.
What sparked this debate was the comment by the same reader:
I was, of course, referring the to banning of PeakTrader for using the term ‘China virus’. I see it as an extreme and discriminatory step. Moreover, because it is by a Chinese-American professor in an attempt to suppress what appears to be implied, but deserved, criticism of Chinese authorities, the optics are terrible and I believe serves no one, and in particular, the Chinese-American community whom you are ostensibly seeking to defend.
This is what drives my focusing on what would otherwise be a merely irritating and mildly insulting thread. It reflects the view that Chinese-Americans (and by transitivity, although the reader denies it), Korean-Americans and other hyphenated Americans, be viewed with a caveat about their motivations. In principle this should apply to Australian-Americans or German-Americans, but we know that in the real world where I live, by second generation all such concerns disappear because the readily identifiable visual markers are gone. Few who have never been asked in rapid succession “Where are you from?” and “Where are you *really* from?” (despite having no accent to my knowledge) can understand that (admittedly that happens a lot more when I interact with certain demographic groups than others).
So, I view Mr. Kopits’s comments as presaging a lot more Asian-American bashing (because the general population is not very good in discerning the features that distinguish Chinese from say Vietnamese from say Korean) in the wake of continuing anti-China sentiment — and hence better to confront now than later. The end of the pandemic will not end the attacks on Asian-Americans, although they may become less physical in nature.
I can’t speak for other Chinese-Americans (and more specifically American-born Chinese), but here is my view:
Why should I — an American with no financial interest in China (unlike our current president) — be intimidated? I don’t have any close relatives in the country. I don’t plan to be moving there. I don’t plan to work there. I don’t plan to be working with any public or private entities there.
So why pick me out to call me intimidated. I’ll let the non-blind answer.
I will also observe the sheer ignorance some purportedly informed people display when talking about China, and more importantly the Chinese diaspora in America, is sometimes stunning. So for the Steven Kopits of the world, I will note:
- There once was a great civil war in China. (actually, several, but I’m referring to the past 100 odd years).
- There was a losing side.
- There were a lot of people who left the country as a consequence, with lots of property nationalized.
- So, there are lots of Chinese Americans in America who are no friends of the current political management of China.