From Cotton to Pelosi: the rise of new McCarthyism in US politics
Published: Feb 09, 2024 11:00 AM
Tom Cotton (left) and Nancy Pelosi Photo: CFP

Tom Cotton (left) and Nancy Pelosi Photo: CFP

You might think that a US Senate hearing on "Online Child Safety" would be about protecting children from cyberbullying, predators, or misinformation. But for Senator Tom Cotton, it was an opportunity to unleash his anti-China agenda on TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew.

Last week, Cotton grilled Chew about his nationality and possible ties to the Communist Party of China. Chew, who is a Singaporean citizen, repeatedly told Cotton, with an obvious display of his frustration, that he had nothing to do with China or its ruling party. But Cotton just wouldn't listen.

It was a typical manifestation of racism.

The way that Cotton singled Chew out and treated him differently from his American peers made many Asian Americans uncomfortable. Chew was the only CEO subject to such scrutiny and suspicion among the five who testified at the hearing. The other four American CEOs were all spared from Cotton's inquisition about their nationality, their citizenship, or their political affiliations. They were not treated as potential threats to America's national security or democracy, but as American entrepreneurs who deserve respect and recognition for their achievements. Chew received special treatment from the senator only because he was the only one with an Asian face.

It is a typical manifestation of arrogance and ignorance.

Cotton's behavior also showed a complete disregard for Singapore's sovereignty and identity. It is true that about 75 percent of Singaporeans are ethnically Chinese. But Singapore and China are two different sovereign countries, and Singaporeans are proud of their own identity. To assume that Chew, or any Singaporean, is a Chinese national or a member of the CPC, shows a lack of common sense and disrespect for Singapore's history, culture, and politics.

Millions of Asian Americans and Singaporeans took to social media to express their outrage after the hearing. Many pointed out that Cotton's own home state of Arkansas has a history of slavery, segregation, and racism, and that he should be more careful about throwing stones from his glass house.

More than a performance for amusement by a clown, the shoddy show from a narrow and callow senator should raise alarm. Cotton's interrogation of Chew echoes the dark and dangerous era of McCarthyism in American history. During the absurd hearing, Cotton kept pressing Chew because he could not believe that a person of Chinese descent is not a pawn of Beijing. By asking Chew's view on Xinjiang, Cotton implied that Chew had to prove his loyalty to the US by denouncing China. Senator Cotton is an opinionated man; he does not let facts or logic get in the way of his prejudice.

It is the typical calculation of many US politicians.

Unfortunately, Cotton is not alone: former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi was recently caught on camera shouting "go back to China" angrily and rudely at a group of calm and peaceful pro-Palestinian protesters who were calling for a cease-fire in Gaza outside her office. All the protesters were from Code Pink, an American anti-war activist group vocal about the human rights violations in Gaza, with no connections to China at all. Due to her resentment towards China, Pelosi assumed that all the criticism against her must be motivated by China, and the protesters must be paid by the Chinese government. Her racial remarks revealed nothing but her prejudice against China and her fear of the truth. She didn't care about what her fellow Americans were pleading for, just as she wouldn't bother to show any empathy or compassion for the suffering and plight of the Palestinian people. Speaking for the people in Gaza wouldn't bring her any bonuses, but attacking China would, so why not play the China card?

Cotton and Pelosi have both fueled deep-seated racial and ideological prejudice and hostility towards China and its people. They have learned nothing from the past; they have shown nothing but contempt for the present; and they have offered nothing but fear for the future. Cotton's attack on TikTok and Pelosi's outburst at pro-Palestinian protesters, as well as their support for sanctions, tariffs, and military interventions against China, are part of a larger pattern of anti-China rhetoric and policies that they and other China hawks have adopted in recent years. They blame China for the COVID-19 pandemic, the trade war, the climate crisis, and other global problems, bringing nothing constructive but countless poisonous pills to China-US relations.

Yet, is this what American voters elected the senators and House Speakers to do? Shouldn't Cotton and Pelosi represent the values and interests of the American people who deserve sound and stable China-US relations, who are fed up with war and violence, and who want a more peaceful and just world, just like most people in the world do?

The author is a commentator on international affairs, writing regularly for Xinhua News, Global Times, China Daily, CGTN etc. He can be reached at xinping604@gmail.com.