I write to make a simple point about China-bashing. As a native-born Chinese-American, I hope we will remain true to our democratic principles. The Chinese government and Chinese businesses, which may well deserve criticism, are not the same as Chinese immigrants and their American descendants, who have made the choice to embrace this nation and its ideals.
China and Japan have alternated as the foreign enemy for America, even as we enter a Pacific era. The attacks on China for trade practices, ranging from antitrust and dumping violations to currency manipulation and disregard of intellectual property protections to corporate espionage, are reminiscent of similarly hyperbolic criticisms of Japan a generation ago. China is said to be set to invade.
Since Japan entered an economic slump from which it has not recovered, we have forgotten the ugliness of these sorts of sentiments. But "Japan Inc." was once said to be ready to take over the world, buying American landmarks, sports teams, and brand-name corporations. In the Back to the Future movie trilogy, the Michael J. Fox character, Marty McFly, is fired in 2015 by a Japanese boss. His humiliation is complete, because he reported to and then is abused by an Asian who is younger than he is.
That theme, "back to the future," is appropriate. There has an abiding fear of the rise of the East, the decline of the West, ever since Oswald Spengler predicted such a clash of civilizations. In that formulation, Asian Americans embody both negative trends.
Other Americans have not been treated similarly. Lee Iacocca is an example. He was a high-profile businessman-pundit; he's still consulted about leadership today. The straight-talking, tough, cigar-smoking, confidant chairman of automobile manufacturer Chrysler was prideful about ethnicity. He is Italian in descent. His best-selling memoirs mentioned his youthful embarrassment of explaining what pizza was, when it was an ethnic dish not yet ubiquitous through speedy delivery. Notwithstanding his affiliation of his corporation with his heritage (the coupe designed by Maserati, he announced, would be the prettiest Italian to come to America since his mother), it would be laughable if a journalist or shareholder were to take him to task over Mussolini and Fascism or the Mafia and corruption.
He was not at fault. He is able to revel in Italian nationality without compromising his American citizenship. That is as it should be. It is no slight of Iacocca to observe that an Asian American counterpart seems somehow preposterous. (During the Great War, it should be noted, "ethnic" Americans faced considerable discrimination.)
Likewise, the acquisition of Chrysler by Daimler and then Fiat in succession, provoked no concerns about national security. Yet those companies originate from nations, Germany and Italy, respectively, that with Japan, constituted the "Axis" in World War II. You can bet if Chrysler were sold to a Japanese or Chinese conglomerate, the reaction would diverge.
I want to be clear. I am an American. As an American, I share concerns about the rise of China -- if anything, I have more at stake in ensuring my family's decisions over three generations do not prove to be mistaken. And as an American, I deserve the same respect as other Americans -- accepted as an equal even if honoring my ancestry.