THERE is a general climate of heightened apprehension and concern among Asians, including Malaysians, in the United States following increased Asian hate in the country after the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, observes Elina Noor (pic), who is Director of Political-Security Affairs at the Asia Society Policy Institute, Washington DC.
In response to rising anti-Asian racism, Elina notes that the Biden administration has taken steps to recognise and address the situation.
“A week into taking office, a Presidential Memorandum Condemning and Combating Racism, Xenophobia, and Intolerance Against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) in the United States was released. The memo was exactly that – a memo, not an executive order or a piece of legislation. But as a directive, it conveys a presidential priority and stands in marked contrast to the indifferent attitude over the last few years towards xenophobic and inflammatory rhetoric affecting the AAPI community in the country, ” she says.
Elina explains that over the last few months following the directive, there have been government consultations with the AAPI community. Senior administration personnel have also acknowledged that the United States needs to do better at home in order to be more credible internationally.
However the challenge with the United States, as with many other countries, is that the problem of race is systemic, structural, and institutionalised.
“Anti-Asian attitudes are not new – they go back to the Page Act and the Chinese Exclusion Act in the late 19th century and have resurfaced at different periods such as when the Japanese were interned during World War II, and in the aftermath of the Sept 11 attacks in 2001 when certain groups of Asians were targeted because of national security overreach, ” says Elina.
“Overcoming the current wave of anti-minority sentiments will require dismantling the very same power structures that support systemic racism, not just a whitewashing of the problem through campaigns and sounding boards, ” she says.
“They are a good start, of course, but pitting minorities against each other through the ‘model minority myth’ (that we Asians, ourselves, have bought into) and letting dangerous domestic programmes such as the Department of Justice’s ‘China Initiative’ under the Trump Administration survive will undermine the sincerity of constructive efforts.”
Despite heightened tensions, Elina does not believe that the increase in anti-Asian behaviour in the West will have a significant impact on Malaysia’s diplomacy and foreign policy with the United States.
“We live in our own racial glass house, of course, but unless conduct has been egregious and of direct impact, we have also typically not factored in considerations of domestic social justice in the United States or elsewhere into our foreign policy engagement.
“Part of that can be attributed to the non-interference stance all Asean countries adhere to as well, ” she says.