Trump ad slammed for depicting first U.S. Chinese American governor as Chinese official

The campaign's Biden attack ad suggested that Gary Locke, who also served as the ambassador to China under the Obama administration, is Chinese.
Image: Joe Biden, Gary Locke
From left, presidential candidate Joe Biden appears on stage with Gary Locke, former governor of Washington and commerce secretary under President Obama.Trump Campaign

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By Kimmy Yam

President Donald Trump has received backlash for a campaign ad that appears to suggest that Gary Locke, the former U.S. ambassador to China, was a Chinese official.

The ad, released Thursday, attempts to paint former Vice President Joe Biden, the apparent Democratic presidential nominee, as being “soft" on China. One portion of the video flips through a series of interactions between Biden and Chinese officials, like Chinese President Xi Jinping, but includes Locke in the mix. Locke, who has the distinction of being the first American of Chinese descent to head the U.S. Embassy in Beijing, was born in Seattle.

While Locke didn’t directly address the use of his appearance in the ad, he responded to the spot in totality in a statement. He wrote that he has “no tolerance” for distraction and political divisions at the moment, a time of public health crisis. He also pointed out the heightened number of hate attacks targeting Asian Americans due to the pandemic.

“President Trump and his team are fanning hatred and it needs to stop now. Hate crimes and discrimination against the Asian American community are on the rise. And the Trump team is making it worse,” Locke, who served as ambassador under the Obama administration, wrote. “Asian Americans are Americans. Period. We defend our country in wars, build businesses and create jobs, serve in all levels of our government, and are treating patients on the frontlines of this crisis as we speak.”

The ad also prompted many Asian Americans, including former Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang to accuse Trump of underscoring the perpetual foreigner stereotype

Tim Murtaugh, the Trump campaign’s communications director, said in a tweet responding to the criticism that the “shot with the flags,” in which Biden is featured with Locke, was used to place the presidential hopeful in Beijing in 2013. One major theme in the ad is Biden’s trip to China with his son Hunter. The trip has previously been used by Trump to stir up controversy around Hunter Biden’s business dealings in the country.

“The shot with the flags specifically places Biden in Beijing in 2013,” Murtaugh wrote. “It’s for a reason. That’s the Hunter Biden trip. Memory Lane for ol’ Joe.”

But John C. Yang, president and executive director of Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, told NBC News that the spot just adds fuel to racist notions.

“Suggesting that Gary Locke, who was born, raised and served as governor in Washington state, and also served as a federal Cabinet member, is somehow not American is outrageous,” he said. “It demonstrates that, for some people, as long as you look Asian, you will never fully be accepted as American.”

Locke grew up in Seattle housing projects and worked at his father’s grocery store in his youth. He announced his endorsement of Biden in January,

“Our current international state of affairs requires a leader with tried and tested experience in dealing with some of our most consequential issues,” Locke, a former secretary of commerce, said in a statement released first to NBC News. “I cannot think of anyone better than Joe Biden to assume the role of commander-in-chief at this critical time.”