Federal government’s witch hunt aimed at Chinese Americans
Spy accusations part of U.S. preparations for war with China
San José, CA – On Sept. 11, the Justice Department dropped its charges against Xi Xiaoxing, who had been chair of the physics department at Temple University, until his arrest in May. Professor Xi’s home was raided and searched by a dozen FBI agents at dawn, some with guns drawn, when he was arrested and led away in handcuffs in front of his wife and two daughters. He was charged with sharing designs for a ‘pocket heater’ used in superconductor research with scientists in China.
The problem with the Justice Department’s charges is that the design that Professor Xi had emailed to China was not a pocket heater, according to testimony of other scientists, including a co-inventor of the pocket heater. The government had not even bothered to check with experts what the design was for.
This is not the first case of U.S. government persecution of Chinese American scientists. Hydrologist Sherry Chen was arrested by federal agents at her workplace with the National Weather Service and charged with being a Chinese spy in October 2014. Then a week before her trial was supposed to begin in March, the government dropped all charges, but has not given her job back. Her so-called crime was to try to help a former classmate in China, who is now a vice minister in the Chinese government for water resources, and who wanted to know how dams were paid for in the U.S.
Perhaps the best known of all case was that of nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was arrested on charges of espionage in December of 1999 and held in solitary confinement for nine months before the government dropped all but one charge. Lee struck a plea deal and won a $1.6 million settlement, along with an apology by the judge for the government’s persecution and mistreatment of him.
The roots of the U.S. government’s witch hunt can be found in the long history of national oppression of Chinese people in the U.S. The state of California passed a foreign miners tax aimed at Chinese who joined the California gold rush in the 1840s and 1850s. The state also banned Chinese people from marrying whites and allowed public schools to segregate Chinese children in separate schools.
In 1882 the U.S. government passed a Chinese exclusion act that kept all but a few Chinese from immigrating to the U.S. – the first immigration restriction based on nationality. The federal government also tried to strip U.S.-born Chinese of their citizenship in the 1890s, but lost in the Supreme Court case of Wong vs. U.S.
About the same time the city of San Francisco began the use of restrictive covenants in real estate deeds to segregate Chinese people. These covenants spread nationwide and were mainly used against African Americans.
Today, the witch hunt against Chinese Americans is growing as the U.S. prepares for war with China. The main preparation is military, with the so-called ‘pivot’ towards Asia, where the U.S. already has placed a majority of its naval forces to confront China. While the U.S. military has not been able to move as quickly as it has planned because of growing threats to U.S. interests in the Middle East, the U.S. has set up a new base in Australia, expanded its military presence in the Philippines, and is actively trying to get China’s neighbors to join the U.S. in an anti-Chinese coalition.
A second front of the U.S. war preparations is economic, where the U.S. is trying to isolate China. The U.S. government tried to block the Chinese-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, but failed. The U.S. is also negotiating a free trade agreement known as the Trans Pacific Partnership or TPP, which excludes China. Ash Carter, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, said, “The TPP is as important to me as another aircraft carrier.”
Last, but not least, the U.S. government is carrying out a witch hunt against Chinese Americans who it accuses of spying for China. Chinese and other Asian Americans have had their rights violated in the U.S. in times of war; the most blatant example was the incarceration of 120,000 Japanese Americans, two-thirds of whom were native-born U.S. citizens, during World War II. 40 years later, the government bowed to pressure from the Japanese American community and made an official apology (redress) and a monetary payment (reparations).
Since Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. government has stepped up its persecution and harassment of Arab Americans and American Muslims as the U.S. went to war first in Afghanistan, then in Iraq. They have sent provocateurs into Islamic Centers trying to incite violence and have prosecuted and jailed Palestinians who were sending humanitarian aid to Palestine. The U.S. government has also spread its net to anti-war and international solidarity activists, and is currently persecuting Palestinian American community leader Rasmea Odeh.
The U.S. government’s domestic repression aimed Chinese Americans is nowhere near what it has done and is doing to Arab Americans and American Muslims, but the continued persecution of Chinese American academics is just a canary in the coal mine for more widespread persecution in the future. Anti-Chinese and anti-Asian sentiment has been cropping up – from anti-Chinese graffiti in San Francisco to Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush using the racist term ‘anchor-baby’ against Asians coming to the U.S.
Other Asian Americans are sure to feel the heat when this happens. The racists on the ground don’t know and don’t care about distinctions between Chinese and other Asian Americans. On the 50th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, some of these racists vandalized the homes and cars of Filipino and Vietnamese Americans – two countries that were actually occupied by the Empire of Japan during World War II. Our communities and families are often closely intertwined, with the growing number of inter-ethnic, intra-Asian marriages (that is Japanese-Chinese, etc.), which are actually the main form of outmarriage among Asian Americans today.
While fighting for the civil rights of Chinese Americans and opposing government persecution, we also need to oppose the growing U.S. government hostility towards China and U.S. military war plans.
Masao Suzuki is a longtime activist in the Japanese American community who educates around the issue of World War II concentration camps that held Japanese Americans. His adopted daughter was born in China.