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Asian Americans call out Rep. Tim Ryan for airing ad that's 'rife with Sinophobia'

“Creating a villainous country and claiming that that’s the reason why Ohio has lost manufacturing jobs — not only is that bad policy, it’s racist,” one advocate said.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, walks down the House steps of the Capitol on Oct. 22, 2021.
Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, walks down the House steps of the Capitol on Oct. 22.Bill Clark / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images file

Asian American organizers and officials are criticizing Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio, over a campaign ad they say inflames Sinophobia and anti-Asian hate.

Ryan, who is running for Senate, released the spot Tuesday. In it, he claims that “Communist China” is to blame for the loss of American jobs.

“China’s winning. Workers are losing,” Ryan says in the ad. “It’s us vs. them. Capitalism vs. communism. I’m not backing down. Are you?”

Ryan’s House colleague, Rep. Grace Meng, called on Ryan to take down the ad, saying it is “essentially shifting blame away from American corporations’ anti-worker policies and putting a target on the backs of #AAPIs.” And other organizations, such as the youth civic engagement group Run AAPI and the super PAC AAPI Victory Fund, condemned the ad, saying it could further harm a community that has already endured heightened racism during the pandemic.

In a statement to NBC Asian America, Ryan, who has previously condemned violence against Asian Americans, doubled down on the sentiment behind his ad, saying China “has been our greatest economic adversary for 40 years.”

“I’ve fought against both parties to hold them accountable, voted against bad trade deals and tax loopholes that rewarded corporations for shipping our jobs overseas, and worked every day that I’ve been in office to level the playing field and invest in workers here,” Ryan said in the statement. “Ohio workers are the best in the world, and I will never apologize for doing everything in my power to take on China and fight for all Ohioans.”

Brad Jenkins, president of the AAPI Victory Fund, which in a statement described the spot as “rife with sinophobic rhetoric,” said it’s critical that politicians be held accountable, particularly at a time when the community is weathering anxiety and fears around their safety. 

“It’s clear that Tim doesn’t care. He hasn’t centered any kind of awareness for what’s happening and what has taken place over the course of the past two years,” Jenkins said. “Creating a villainous country and claiming that that’s the reason why Ohio has lost manufacturing jobs — not only is that bad policy, it’s racist.” 

Jenkins said Ryan's rhetoric — which shifts blame to China, scapegoats Asians and creates a foreign “boogeyman” instead of proposing solutions — is similar to that of former President Donald Trump.

“That boogeyman has led to a historic surge in violence and discrimination against the Asian American community,” Jenkins said. “So Tim Ryan has messed up on every account.”

Linh Nguyen, senior adviser for Run AAPI, noted that similar language and vitriol around Japanese auto manufacturers in the 1980s is what led to the killing of Vincent Chin, a Chinese American who was beaten to death by two white autoworkers who had mistaken him for being Japanese.

In August, a study by the nonprofit reporting center Stop AAPI Hate showed that anti-China views were often invoked during bias incidents. More than 48 percent of all hate incidents reported between March 19, 2020, and June 30, 2021, included anti-China or anti-immigrant rhetoric in at least one hateful statement. 

Russell Jeung, co-founder of the organization, previously told NBC Asian America that these ideas are often perpetuated by “political rhetoric and policies that are strongly anti-China.”

Jenkins added that the spot is also an unwise campaign move. By harping on anti-China rhetoric, the Ryan campaign essentially ignores the existence of a growing Asian American voting bloc, he said.

Nguyen said this is part of a broader trend in both parties, in which Asian Americans are ignored by candidates, despite a “new kind of visibility and renewed sense of storytelling” in these past few years. 

“When we talk about key voting blocs, or even specifically when we talk about the progressive voting bloc for Democrats as winnable, Asian Americans are never included,” Nguyen said. “And specifically, young Asians are never included as part of that.” 

Nguyen said that in districts across the country, Asian Americans have proven themselves to be the margin of victory. In Georgia’s 7th Congressional District, Asian Americans helped swing the traditionally Republican area to the Democrats. In the 2020 House race, Asian Americans strongly favored Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, comprising 150 percent of her winning margin, according to an election eve poll released by the AAPI Civic Engagement Fund. 

Nguyen said Ryan’s ad is consistent with a trend of alienating immigrant communities for votes.

“This would have been such a stronger message for the people of Ohio if it had been simply naming and calling out again how dangerous American corporations are,” Nguyen said.