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Ahead of midterms, politicians warn against using China rhetoric that scapegoats Asians

“Leaders, like it or not, are role models, and they have a large platform. So it is really important that we are careful and nuanced with the words that we use,” Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., said.
Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., and Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., standing next to a "Stop Asian Hate " sign, speak during a press conference about of the Covid-19 Hate Crime Act on Capitol Hill on May 18, 2021.
Reps. Judy Chu, D-Calif., left, and Grace Meng, D-N.Y., during a news conference about the Covid-19 Hate Crimes Act on Capitol Hill on May 18, 2021.Lenin Nolly / Sipa USA via AP file

Asian American politicians are warning against using inflammatory rhetoric about China and anti-Asian terms ahead of the midterms after a new report detailed the impact it can have on Asian and Asian American communities.

The report, titled “The Blame Game” and released Wednesday by the nonprofit group Stop AAPI Hate, focused on how language used in hate incidents often mirrors that of anti-Asian political rhetoric.

The report said Stop AAPI Hate received reports about 2,255 incidents with language that wrongfully blamed Asians and Asian Americans for Covid-19, economic insecurity or being a spy on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.

“The Blame Game” cited language from politicians used to blame China for Covid-19, including President Donald Trump who nicknamed the virus “the China virus” in March 2020. The report said hashtags expressing anti-Asian rhetoric increased by 174 times one week after his first tweet.

The report also said that as of this year, 21% of Americans of all backgrounds believed Asian Americans are at least partly responsible for Covid-19, nearly double last year’s findings.

“This hate was largely fueled by the way that some of our nation’s top leaders chose to talk about the pandemic with terms like ‘China virus’ and ‘kung flu,’ and we knew what this would lead to. We begged leaders not to use these words,” Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., said during a news conference Wednesday discussing the report.

The report said politicians also accused the Chinese government of espionage, which mirrors language used in scapegoating Asians and Asian Americans. It pointed to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, who signed two bills “to address perceived espionage in businesses and higher education” and accused the Chinese Communist Party of spying, the report said.

Sen. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., also said the Chinese Communist Party was attempting to infiltrate different U.S. industries, including university systems and farmlands, according to the report.

“In our country’s history, we’ve seen how the rhetoric used about our communities, not just in relation to COVID-19, but also around economic competition with Asian countries, results in the harm and even murder of Asian Americans here at home,” Rep. Judy Chu, D-Calif., said during the news conference. “When the Chinese government acts against our interests or values, we can and must speak out. But we need to be deliberate in what and who we criticize. It should be specific to those who are responsible, not broad statements that scapegoat all Chinese people.”

The report concluded with recommendations for politicians, candidates and organizers; federal, state and local governments; and the Asian and Asian American communities and allies. 

The recommendations for politicians, candidates and organizers included engaging in responsible political debate, holding political leaders accountable for irresponsible rhetoric and addressing the needs of Asian and Asian American constituents.

“Leaders, like it or not, are role models, and they have a large platform,” Meng said. “So it is really important that we are careful and nuanced with the words that we use.”