Monday, October 11, 1999

Is Racial Profiling Necessary in U.S. China Relations?

Text of a speech given at the Commonwealth Club, October 11, 1999.

I am grateful for this opportunity to present to you some serious concerns of mine which I also believe should be serious concerns for anyone that cares about the future of this country. When Mr. Shepler asked me to speak a few months ago, we came up with a deliberately provocative title. Is Racial Profiling Necessary in U.S. China Relations? I want to thank you for coming and I hope to convince you that the title is not merely a rhetorical question.

First I would like to establish beyond any doubt that racial profiling of Chinese Americans and by extension all Asian Americans still run deep in this country. Then I hope we can engage in a discussion on what can be done about this matter. I sincerely believe that if this prejudice is not overcome, what makes this country so strong and unique will erode away and the future of this nation will be in peril.

I would like to review some events with you in reverse chronological order. Now that I work for Deloitte & Touche, I have learned to say "LIFO," that is last in, first out.

I came back recently from Beijing and Shanghai where I attended the national day celebration. China has not had a celebration on this grand a scale since their 35th anniversary in 1984. Somehow I became
part of a Taiwan group of guests attending the celebration on Tiananmen Square. We all stayed at Minzu Hotel on the main drag and there were ten busloads of us, slightly fewer than 300 in numbers. Half came directly from Taiwan and the other half came from all over the world but lived at one time in Taiwan-except me and perhaps a handful of others.

As tanks, armor vehicles, missile launchers and intercontinental ballistic missiles rumbled by on national day parade, the common murmur among this crowd was "look at that, all made in China." There was obvious pride among these overseas Chinese in a strong China able to defend itself. This brings up the dual loyalty question, which I hope to come back to later.

The point I want to make now is that this is single most watched event in China and a headliner event in rest of Asia. At the lobby of Minzu Hotel, I bumped into a couple checking out after the parade was over. The husband approached me to find out where I was from and I asked him in turn. He said he is a local citizen and just spent a month salary to spend one night at the Minzu just so that he can watch the parade. It was worth it, he said, because there is only one 50th anniversary. He also said somewhat ruefully that he wished he had gotten a higher floor so as to get an unobstructed view. I felt bad because overseas guests took all the higher floors.

CNN in Asia ran a "Visions of China" program for 30 days leading up to October 1. The visions program related China's history and explained how today's China came to be, and included interviews of academicians, historians, businessmen in and outside of China, officials, dissidents, and just persons on the street. I did not see all of them, but the ones I saw were balanced, informative and interesting. I understand the program did not run in the West. This is an unfortunate catch 22. Where the audience is most ignorant and needs to be informed most, is where there is not enough viewing interest to justify commercial support needed to run the program.

The print media in the West by and large gave cursory coverage to China's national day celebration. A few days later, the front page of San Jose Mercury News ran an article on how officials in Beijing swept away all the undesirables and made them go away in preparation for the celebration. I don't understand why this is front page news except that it fits with the image we have of China in the West. As my friend, Professor Norm Matloff commented, has any newspaper ever investigated as to how many prostitutes and panhandlers are permitted to ply their trade on Pennsylvania Avenue during the presidential inauguration?

Now a few words about the Cox Report, the best seller of the right wing press. The outlandish claims and exaggerations contained in what has to be the most disgraceful document ever produced by Congress have been pretty thoroughly reviewed and dismissed by many from the left, middle and the right. I won't get into them here today, though I would be glad to send an email on my detailed analysis of the report upon request. The report makes a big deal about rampant espionage conducted in the U.S. by China. Yet the only culprit the report can cite is some Chinese American sentenced to 12 months in a halfway house, paid a fine and made to perform certain hours of community service. Does this sound like a dastardly spy that sold out his country?

Congressman Cox has repeatedly assured his Asian American constituent that racial profiling of Asian Americans is the last thing on his mind. (If in his efforts to topple the Clinton Administration, a few Chinese Americans get tarred, well so sorry.) Yet his report suggests this spying is so pervasive that the only explanation, as offered by Senator Shelby of Alabama among many others, is mosaic espionage, whereby every Chinese American by virtue of his/her cultural affinity is a potential intelligence gatherer for China. This, by the way, is the explanation being offered by a retired FBI official who spent 20 fruitless years in counter-espionage and did not catch one single spy for China. I find it infuriating that he should make up for his incompetence by broad brushing the entire population of Chinese Americans. I find it even more appalling that he can actually find an outlet for this stuff by appearing in various talk shows and in the printed media.

Now we come to the case of Dr. Wen Ho Lee, heretofore an American making important contribution to national defense--our American national defense by the way--who’s only known infraction is to download computer files onto his unsecured desktop computer. This happens to be a common albeit not sanctioned practice for the sake of higher productivity. Former CIA Director, John Deutsch, even downloaded secret files into his laptop so that he can take them home. None have been accused of disloyalty and summarily dismissed until Dr. Lee. FBI investigating Dr. Lee calls their investigation as "Operation Kindred Spirit" which should tell you volumes about where this case is coming from.

What about the question of cultural affinity, does it lead to dual loyalty? I have met a young author in Los Angeles who has written several books. Looking at her red hair and pale freckled face, you would never guess that her great grandfather is Chinese. But she thinks of herself as Chinese and her first book is about the Chinese side of her family tree. Some of you may know her, Lisa See, and her book, Return to Gold Mountain. I have not had the opportunity to ask her why she identifies so strongly with her Chinese heritage. My guess is that the attraction is in the richness of the enduring Chinese culture.

Of course the Chinese culture has fascinated the West for centuries. For such people as John Fairbanks, Jonathan Spence, Michel Oksenberg, Douglas Paal, Winston Lord, Ken Lieberthal and many others that are not ethnic Chinese, this fascination has translated into jobs as professors, pundits, ambassadors, spooks and as presidential advisors. Never, to my knowledge, has any of these gentlemen ever been suspected or accused of disloyalty because of their "cultural affinity." Conversely, any ethnic Chinese, even if they are born in America with little or no empathy for China, are still suspects.

So Mr. FBI and Senator Shelby and all the others out there, I say stop hiding behind this hypocrisy and start calling a spade a spade. Cultural affinity has nothing to do with your accusations. In your mind, if the person looks Chinese, he or she is a possible suspect. Period.

We have seen this mentality before when Japanese Americans were interred for suspected disloyalty for no other grounds than their ethnicity. It took decades to overturn this gross injustice and we thought never again. But this attitude is flaring up again. In some ways, this time around the discrimination is even worse because of its subtlety. Then Japan was the clear aggressor and one can at least claim panic under siege for the error in judgment, though that's hardly an appropriate excuse. Now China is cast as the demon offshore even though China has made no aggressive act--unless putting their embassy in harm's way is considered a hostile act.

There are forces in this country determined to turn China into a target for venom and hate. Each group has their own agenda for targeting China. Those on the right disapprove of China's population control policies, the left on supposed human rights violations, and the organized labor on illusory threats to American jobs and still others thrive on bilateral friction as a means of livelihood. This is a vast subject for another day. Suffice it to say that the critics have one common ground. They make no attempt to understand where China is today; they insist on measuring China by their own comfortable frame of reference which may be totally irrelevant; and, they have no interest in being objective.

I will simply mention one example. The Cox Report would have you believe that every significant piece of military technology owned by China has been stolen from the U.S. Let me simply mentioned these historical facts. China successfully fired their first guided missile on June 29, 1964. Exploded their first atomic bomb on October 16, 1964 and less than three years later on June 17, 1967 detonated their first hydrogen bomb. On April 24, 1970, China lofted its first man-made satellite. The time China took to develop the H-bomb from the A-bomb was less than half the time of any other member nations of the nuclear club. The time for them to send the first satellite aloft from concept to launch was five years.

Do I need to remind the audience that these events took place long before ping-pong diplomacy and Nixon's historic meeting with Mao in 1972? They took place while China was a hermit kingdom sealed not only from the West but had severed relations with the Soviet Union. What are we to conclude from the Cox Report? That the Chinese became dazzled by the superiority of the West, stop thinking for themselves and steal their way to the next level of military might? Recently a book called "OSS in China" came to my attention. Thoroughly researched and taking advantage of recently declassified material about the U.S. intelligence efforts in China during WWII, I am struck by one permeating theme. The bumbling efforts of OSS in China were due to the ignorance of Chinese culture and patronizing condescension of the Americans in charge. Parenthetically, I should mention that they were also hampered by internal politics and bitter infighting. I don't think things have changed much since that time.

The demonizing of China and consequent broad brush tarring of all Chinese Americans has a serious consequence for America. At any one time, there are approximately 150,000 Chinese Americans working in universities, national and private laboratories advancing America's scientific and technological edge. Senator Shelby thinks it would be a good thing to get rid of them and open up some vacancies for "real" Americans. What do you think? A Chinese American invented the Apollo space suit. A Chinese American developed the atomic clock necessary for the global positioning system. A team of Chinese Americans developed the principles of hypersonic flow, which pave the way for easing entry of ICBMs and spacecraft into the atmosphere. The list goes on. Anybody think Senator Shelby is on the right track?

During the hysteria of the Joe McCarthy era, a founder of Caltech's Jet Propulsion Lab and a pioneer of America's missile technology was accused of disloyalty and put under house arrest for five years. He, Qian Xue Sen, was allowed to go to China in 1955 where a year later he headed China's missile development program. On June 29, 1964, China successfully launched their first guided missile. Is this the direction we want to go?

I was in Beijing on December 16, 1978 when normalization of the relations with the U.S. was announced in an extra edition of the People's Daily, printed in red ink instead of the usual black. The only other time the People's Daily ever ran an extra edition was when China detonated their first atomic bomb. That was an indication of the importance China attached to the bilateral relations. As a Chinese American I was ecstatic. I bought a copy of the extra and had it framed, as what I thought would be a historic document. Unfortunately, if you read Patrick Tyler's recently released book, A Great Wall, the U.S. side has always subject the relationship to petty domestic squabbles rather treating it with statesman-like respect and linking it to the long term interest of the U.S.

Ladies and gentlemen, I hope I have made a case that the title of my talk is not simply a rhetorical question. Now I would like to open the floor for discussion on where do we go from here, because frankly, I don't have very good answers. Thank you very much.