By Mahlon Meyer
Northwest Asian Weekly
“Imagine,” said Haipei Shue, president of United Chinese Americans (UCA). “In seven or eight years, one morning, you wake up and look at the New York Times … And it says China finally becomes number one in the world, and you see the Chinese military is much more improved than today, with more than one carrier group in the West Pacific and there will be three or four soon,” he said.
“And you see for sure there will be one or two industries that have caught up with the West or America,” he added.
“Where is the hope that China–U.S. relations will get better in this amount of time?” he concluded.
His point: they won’t.
Shue’s organization, founded in 2017, aims to lobby for the rights of Chinese Americans and increase mutual understanding between them and other groups in the United States as anti-Chinese sentiment courses through American politics.
His organization, which opened a chapter in Washington state last month, recognizes the dire straits China–U.S. relations are in and the fallout that is already affecting Chinese Americans and hopes to take action to change things.
At the banquet marking the founding of the Washington chapter on Oct. 26, former Gov. Gary Locke spoke to these themes.
Referring to a mounting number of cases in which both Chinese and Chinese American scholars are being harassed, Locke said a prominent Chinese scientist had called this a new form of racial profiling.
“Just as African Americans have the phrase ‘driving while black’ to refer to the tendency for Blacks to be stopped unfairly by the police for traffic violations compared to white drivers for the same behavior, there is a new phrase for Chinese scientists: ‘researching while Chinese,’” he said.
Locke pointed to several cases in which Chinese American scientists have been harassed for harmless activities.
He mentioned the case of an expert in flooding who was taken out of her workplace in handcuffs for downloading data about dams.
He mentioned a Chinese American scientist whose home was invaded by FBI agents armed with machine guns that they “pointed at his entire family, including his young children.”
The charge was the scientist had distributed blueprints of sensitive lab equipment from his university. But the scientist had already denied this and upon investigation, it turned out only to be a design for a project he had invented on his own.
In a phone interview, Shue said that Chinese students, along with students from Russia and Iran, are being denied access to any research considered sensitive by the government.
Shue sees this as only one of many signs that anti-Chinese bias has spread into the federal government.
“The federal government really has changed its mindset, the so-called deep state has changed,” said Shue.
“In the 1990s, after Tiananmen Square, you still had the academic community and the business community and to some extent the political community trying to say there is still hope, let’s not close the door to China,” he said.
But now things are radically different, he added.
“And everybody is jumping on that. It’s a very dangerous thing, too.”
After the Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, Shue led a group that successfully won rights for Chinese students to remain in the United States, he said. Later, he launched campaigns for the World Wildlife Federation. He also lobbied Congress on behalf of a movement trying to link China’s Most Favored Nation status to human rights, he said.
The Washington chapter
Activists in the Washington state Chinese community had heard about UCA, and met with Shue in Seattle. Some went to its launch in Washington, D.C. in 2017.
Hong Qi met Shue in Seattle and was inspired. She is now a board member of the Washington state chapter. She came to the United States in 1988 and after earning a Master’s in Public Administration, she worked first for the state government and then for the King County Elections.
During her work, she soon became aware of the need for Asian Americans to be advocates for themselves.
“When I was working for King County Elections, I felt that Chinese Americans needed to be civically engaged, especially in the voting area,” she said.
“The voter turnout rate for Chinese Americans was low, and I knew that a lot of Chinese Americans did not register to vote. That was my concern.”
Qi recognized that things have changed in recent years, but not enough, she thinks.
“I think Asian Americans should participate more in running for office and taking up leadership positions in organizations and companies,” she added.
Locke echoed the observation in his speech.
“Consider the fact that although Asian Americans make up 6.5 percent of the U.S. population, they account for only 2.8 percent in the U.S. Congress,” he said.
“Fifty or 60 years ago, we could chalk this up to discrimination, but I don’t think that’s the case today,” said Locke.
“I believe that too many Chinese Americans continue to harbor the misguided belief that politics and government service is somehow less noble or useful than becoming a doctor or a lawyer or a software engineer, or a high-tech entrepreneur,” he added.
Winston Lee, the president of the Washington chapter, said UCA will seek common ground with other Chinese groups in the area. The chapter has already started working with Chinese American Citizens Alliance (CACA), the oldest Chinese American civil rights group in the country.
One of the purposes of UCA is to train second-generation Chinese Americans.
Still, Lee acknowledges the chapter is just now getting going.
It has taken its first step by sponsoring one internship position in local government for a Chinese American student. The funding was secured through a grant from Civic Leadership USA, a national foundation aimed at empowering Asian Americans. Lee said his chapter would soon be working with the Bellevue School District to provide mental health counseling.
“The Bellevue School District asked for support with mental health,” he said. “The reason we are doing mental health for the Asian community is that they do need some people who know about [the Chinese students’] culture and habits.”
There are several well-known Chinese American professors in the field that will come give talks, he said.
Qi is also working on developing youth leadership, more government internships, and youth mental health programs for the organization.
In seeking common ground with other Chinese organizations, UCA has decided not to take a stand on the most divisive issue within the Chinese community here: Initiative 1000 (I-1000).
I-1000 is an affirmative action law that allows public institutions like the government and state universities to consider race as one factor in making decisions to hire or admit.
A strident group of mostly recent Chinese immigrants opposes it.
Earlier this year, the group won enough signatures to force a state-wide vote on the law under the title Referendum 88 (R-88).
“We want our members to decide on their own,” said Lee.
UCA wants to first focus on common ground and then extend their efforts to work with other minority groups.
They plan to work with other Chinese groups to oppose a bill in the U.S. Senate that would change the way immigrants are admitted into this country. The bill, called the S.386 Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act, could radically affect the ratio of immigrants coming from India and China.
“We want to work with other organizations, especially local Asian American organizations and we want to be a bridge between Chinese American culture and American culture—we want to increase cultural awareness and public understanding about the Chinese American community,” said Qi.
Mahlon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.