‘Harsh reality’: Asian leaders urge US to stop AAPI violence as citizens reexamine pro-American views

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Leaders throughout Asia are asking the United States to crack down on anti-Asian violence as some of their citizens live there in fear, reconsider study plans at U.S. universities and question their confidence in America as a world role model.

A surge of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders since the start of coronavirus lockdowns in March 2020 prompted remarks from leaders in China, the Philippines, South Korea and Taiwan over the past month. The issue arose Friday during President Joe Biden’s first face-to-face meeting with a foreign leader since taking office, when Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said at the White House that he and Biden agreed that “discrimination by race cannot be permitted in any societies.”

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga says he and President Joe Biden agree “discrimination by race cannot be permitted.”
Andrew Harnik/AP

China, usually on the defensive against U.S. assertions of human rights violations, reversed roles. 

“When Asian Americans were attacked or even killed before their eyes, did (the U.S. government) ever care about the human rights and freedoms of these people suffering from systemic racism and hate crimes?” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said March 24.

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Last year, 73% of Americans held negative views of China, a 13-percentage-point rise over 2019, the Pew Research Center found in a survey. Americans scapegoating China as the source of COVID-19 targeted random Asian people, including the elderly, from racial slurs to threats to violent attacks, including those resulting in death. On March 16, six of the eight people killed in mass shootings at Atlanta-area spas were Asian women. On April 15, many of the victims in a shooting at a FedEx facility in Indianapolis were Sikh, a religion with origins in India.

The advocacy group Stop AAPI Hate reported more than 2,800 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate from 47 states and Washington, D.C., from March 2020 until the end of the year. It tracked 987 in the first two months of 2021.

Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are debating the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act: legislation that would expedite the Justice Department’s review of hate crimes.

Last week, senators voted overwhelmingly – 92-6 to open debate on the bill. According to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate aims to pass the legislation Wednesday or Thursday, after lawmakers hash out a few amendments.

Democrats push for COVID hate crime bill amid increasing attacks against Asian Americans

In the House, the Judiciary Committee will consider the legislation Tuesday. If it passes both chambers of Congress, it can make its way to President Joe Biden’s desk.

South Korea offered to help U.S. officials quell the attacks, to “work closely with related U.S. government institutions at each level so as to prevent damage and ensure … safety,” South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong told Seoul-based Yonhap News Agency.

Taiwan, a staunch informal ally of Washington, also spoke out.

“Our government always respects human rights, advocates a tolerant and diverse society and hopes that acts of discrimination won’t happen anymore,” the Foreign Ministry in Taipei said in a statement March 31.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin expressed “deep concern on the rise in attacks on Asian Americans, including Filipino-Americans,” his office said March 26.

Demonstrators rally against hate and violence against Asians on March 21 in Columbus Park in the Chinatown section of Manhattan, N.Y.
Eduardo Munoz Alvarez/AP

Government statements are probably aimed largely at placating worried citizens, and they’re unlikely to affect state-to-state relations, scholars in Asia say.

“There are a few million Filipinos in the U.S., and they need to hear some reassurances from the government,” said Eduardo Araral, a Philippine national and associate professor at the National University of Singapore public policy school. He plans to spend 10 months at Stanford University, starting in August.

China, India and South Korea were the top sources of overseas students at U.S. universities in 2019-20, a peak year before COVID-19 travel barriers reduced arrivals. About 625,000 students came from those three countries.

Asian officials implored their citizens in the USA to step up precautions. Taiwan asked its U.S.-based representative offices to contact Taiwanese expatriates and students to make sure they’re safe.

Asian people said the violence soiled impressions of the USA as a racially tolerant society. Most Asian countries are racially homogenous with little similar experience.

“Many Koreans looked to the United States as a model for good governance and multicultural society,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul. “The human toll (from) the recent race-based violence has challenged those previously held beliefs.”

Japanese national Akiko Horiba, 43, said she’s unsure whether she would study in the USA if she had the chance again. She lived near Boston from 2001 to 2003 to pursue her master’s degree and found Americans to be “kind.” She’s a senior program officer with the Sasakawa Peace Foundation research body in Tokyo.

“Because of the coronavirus, people need to attack someone, they need a target, so Asians are a target, and Trump said it was a China disease, and because Koreans, Japanese and Chinese look similar, they can’t distinguish,” Horiba said, recounting images she sees on Japanese television. “I would be a little afraid to visit America because I’m a woman and I saw a video of someone beating Asian ladies. I don’t really recommend it to the younger generation.”

Akiko Horiba
I would be a little afraid to visit America because I’m a woman and I saw a video of someone beating Asian ladies.

Korean national Jiyeon Jeon, 26, plans to start her Ph.D. studies in the fall at the University of Texas, Austin. She judges Austin to be a “safe city” and said she’s ready to confront interracial issues if needed – for the first time.

“It forces me to accept the harsh reality that racism and discrimination against Asians could be worse than before,” Jeon said. “Many Asian students, like myself, come from a predominantly mono-ethnic society, and for many of us, the U.S. may be the first place where we actually confront racism and discrimination. Many of us are learning how to deal with this as we go.”

Her friends bound for other U.S. schools this year anxiously share news of attacks on social media but plan to go ahead with their studies.

David Lu, 44, a native of New York City, moved to his ancestral homeland of Taiwan in November to escape the pandemic – Taiwan had 1,076 coronavirus cases as of Monday afternoon – and looked back “helplessly,” worried about relatives still in the USA, when the attacks picked up.

The tech startup founder wrote a letter March 31 to The Wall Street Journal, pledging to “fight violence against Asians” and collect $10 million over the next year toward the cause. The letter garnered 7,047 co-signatures on the website standwithasianamericans.com.

“To hear all these stories was hard for me,” Lu said. He suspects violence was brewing before the pandemic: “It’s been happening for a long time. The number of hate crimes reported is lower than the actual number.

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USA TODAY, Storyful

Contributing: Michael Collins



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