By Joseph Shepard
WASHINGTON DC – The National Council of Asian Pacific Americans, Stop AAPI Hate, and 21 other national AAPI organizations, sent a letter to President Biden Thursday, asking him to increase his efforts to protect the AAPI community from racism, hate, and discrimination.
The letter precedes the release of the COVID-19 origins report, which was ordered by the Biden Administration and will include the findings of a 90 day investigation on the origins of the virus.
Currently, most scientists agree that COVID-19 was initially transmitted naturally; however, the announcement of the origins report led to renewed interest in a conspiracy theory that COVID-19 originated in a Chinese laboratory.
In the letter, the signatories note that “The chief purveyors of these conspiracy theories… aim to deflect criticism about the early U.S. response to the pandemic and direct blame at China and, by extension, Asian Americans.”
Due to this, there is a fear that the release of the report, regardless of its findings, will increase the risk for AAPI communities.
Even before the release of the report, the number of hate incidents against the AAPI community has been high in 2021. In the first six months of 2021, Stop AAPI Hate received as many reports of hate incidents as it did in the last 9 months of 2020.
Of those incidents, almost half included “statements regarding anti-Chinese or anti-immigrant rhetoric with the plurality involving scapegoating of China or Chinese people as the source of the novel coronavirus.”
Thus, in the letter, the signatories wished to stress to President Biden that the language he uses matters, writing “it is critical that you and your Administration use precise language in all of your public statements about the investigation and about the pandemic more broadly.”
For example, they suggested being more specific when referring to the actions of the Chinese government, rather than just saying “Chinese.”
Also, they asked that the President “forcefully and repeatedly condemn anti-China and anti-AAPI rhetoric each and every time this topic comes up, recognizing America’s history of translating geopolitical tension into acts of racism and hate at home.”
Finally, the signatories wrote that, while statements are important, “substantive policy change” is needed as well. They acknowledged the measures that were already enacted in March, but claimed that more are necessary.
In the letter, the following measures were listed as proposals for actions that the federal government could take to protect the AAPI community: investing in human rights and civil rights initiatives; increasing “federal funding for, and coordination with, community partners to deliver in-language, culturally competent mental health services;” prioritizing “language justice” in the federal government, and pausing the Department of Justice’s China Initiative.
The China Initiative, which began under the Trump Administration, has a claimed purpose of
investigating economic espionage and trade secrets, but according to the signatories, in practical effect, the initiative “subjects Asian American and Asian immigrant scientists and others — particularly those of Chinese descent — to racial profiling, surveillance and wrongful prosecutions, where no evidence of economic espionage or trade secret theft exists.”
Concluding the letter, the signatories requested the opportunity to meet directly with the President or Vice President in the future to discuss the concerns and proposals mentioned in the letter, and wrote that the president’s “words and actions in the weeks ahead can save AAPI lives.”