Democratic Senate candidate Tim Ryan insists that the country’s main challenge boils down to one word: China. But the Youngstown-area congressman’s phrasing of the question is causing concern in the Asian American community.
Sharon Kim of the Asian American Midwest Progressives organization argued that Ryan’s ad confuses legitimate criticism of the Chinese government with the actions of American companies. Instead, the ad blames China for job losses and rising inflation, she said.
“There is a clear distinction between inflating China’s threat narratives to fuel racism in order to win votes, and legitimate criticism of Chinese government officials and companies,” she argued. “He absolutely could have made a different choice.”
And the stakes are high. Kim said investing an entire country in the blame invites racism, and Kim noted that the impacts are felt throughout the AAPI community. She referred to the 1982 murder of Vincent Chin, a Chinese-American who killed two white autoworkers upset by the success of the Japanese auto industry.
More recently, former President Donald Trump’s anti-China rhetoric in response to COVID-19 has led to a sharp increase in violence or hatred directed at Asian Americans.
In a press release, AAMP cites data from the organization Stop AAPI Hate that reports 128 anti-Asian hate incidents in Ohio between the start of the pandemic and December of last year.
On Instagram, Ryan’s top Democratic contender, Morgan Harper, explicitly made the connection to Trump – going back and forth between clips from Ryan’s ad and the former president repeatedly invoking “China.”
“We won’t win trying to be Republicans,” Harper wrote in the caption.
The AAMP supported Harper in the primary election. They noted that the Ryan campaign did not respond to their invitations to engage in the endorsement process.
In an emailed statement, Ryan defended the ad.
“I have spent my entire career sounding the alarm on China, which – thanks to a concerted strategy by its communist government that has included currency manipulation, intellectual property theft and artificially low wages, l of child labor and brutal working conditions – has been our greatest economic adversary for 40 years,” Ryan said.
Asian American children are being bullied; Asian American seniors are attacked and killed. This is unacceptable. We must unite and say bluntly: hate has no place here. #StopAsianHate.https://t.co/RVaUTkC0Xl
— Congressman Tim Ryan (@RepTimRyan) April 6, 2021
He insisted the announcement was aimed at the Chinese government rather than people of Chinese descent. Ryan also noted that he spoke out about AAPI’s violence and voted for a resolution condemning it.
His campaign also pointed to past advertisements and statements by Senator Sherrod Brown, D-OH, exposing the Chinese government for currency manipulation and other unfair trade practices.
In addition to criticizing the ad’s focus on China, Kim argued that she and others from the AAPI do not see themselves represented in it. Throughout, Ryan is shown addressing groups of people – most of them white, with factory floors, helmets or banners offering a nod to union work.
“I’m from Ohio,” Kim laughed. “I don’t see myself in this ad, it’s clearly not talking to me. Imagine what all the Ohio AAPI folks think when they see this too.
The lack of representation is cringeworthy, but Kim also argued that it’s not big politics. Although Asian Americans make up a tiny portion of the state’s overall population, as of the 2020 census, they were the fastest growing ethnic group.
AAMP urges the Ryan campaign to pull the ad and meet with them or other AAPI groups. Ryan’s campaign did not address the removal of the ad, but said it welcomed the opportunity to meet with AAPI workers and community organizations.
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