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How the U.S.-China Trade War reinforces the Perpetual Foreigner Stereotype

Updated: Aug 5, 2019


The US-China Trade War has been disrupting the political and economic climate of the world as tensions between the two global powers grow. While news outlets have been quick to point fingers and analyze the harm done to producers and consumers alike, the negative impact of this conflict on Asian American communities has been continuously overlooked by most mainstream media outlets.

Tariffs and a Tentative Truce

The Trump Administration has been quite opinionated about China’s trade practices, launching an investigation in 2017 on counterfeit goods and pirated software that have cost the US economy $600 billion. This resulted in the first round of tariffs imposed on billions of dollars worth of Chinese goods in 2018. As expected, China fought back. For over a year, the two countries have been slapping taxes on each other’s products, harming buyers and companies from both nations. According to China Briefing in 2019, the total US tariffs applied to Chinese good was worth $250 billion, while the total Chinese tariffs applied to US goods was worth $110 billion. This back and forth retaliation has not only harmed the global market, but it has also put heavy weight onto the shoulders of other foreign leaders, as an escalation of the Trade War doesn’t look good for anyone. Luckily, the US and China have reached an indefinite truce just days before the G20 summit in Osaka. Although details have not been released yet, it looks like the bombardment of future tariffs threatened by President Trump and President Xi won’t be imposed so soon.

Social Strain in the States

However, as the political pressure has been loosening up between the two leaders, Asians in America have not been witnessing the same decrease in societal friction. Prior to the recent trade truce made by the US and China, the Trump Administration had sent the FBI out on a mission to investigate Asian cancer researchers and biomedical scientists and their ties to Chinese medical research and development. Many speculate that this inquisition was carried out in response to the Trade War, as a center cause of its eruption was Chinese theft of US intellectual secrets. As Peter Waldman from Bloomberg writes, “Everything is commodified in the economic cold war with China, including the struggle to find a cure for cancer.” Although the National Institutes of Health and President Trump labels this collusion as Asian Americans “destroying US medical innovation”, they’ve been accused of racially targeting AAPI researchers over White American scientists who are also colluding with China but have been excused from arrest and fines. The fear of “Chinese thievery” in the scientific community has made it difficult for many Asian Americans to find work, sometimes even being fired for false accusation. This calls back to the term "Perpetual Foreigner" or the idea that Asian Americans will always be seen as the enemy no matter how assimilated they are, mainly because they look different. We see the Perpetual Foreigner ideology in US history during World War II when only the Japanese were put in internment camps despite America being at war with Germany as well. This mentality is extremely detrimental to the first generation of AAPI as they struggle to call this nation home due to the lack of inclusivity in the US and their aggressive fear mongering amongst the Asian workforce. America needs to fight for its residents, not against them.

Security for Our Citizens

Indeed, we agree that illegal collusion with foreign countries should be condemned; however, we must question whether FBI investigations like this one are ethical and effective and whether they protect the law-abiding citizens of the country or not. When the issue is quite literally finding a cure for cancer, it should be in the US’ best interests to cooperate with its Asian American researchers to increase productivity in testing and development. It is unjust that scientists cannot continue their important work simply because of their ethnic background, especially when their Caucasian peers are committing the same offences without repercussions. These denizens came to America to start a better life for their children, and they rely on a secure income to achieve that. However, when you have the US exacerbating the trade war and the FBI rounding up Asian scientists, you take away that security that is essential to giving first generation citizens and residents the good quality of life they came to find in America. Thus, it is vital that we tell the people of America that the government cannot target its own residents like this. We must tell them that hard working civilians do not deserve to have their standard of living be taken away just because of their race.


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