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U.S.-China tension adds to anxieties for Asian Americans

Demonstrators in Bellevue, Wash., on Thursday join nationwide

Demonstrators in Bellevue, Wash., on Thursday join nationwide protests on violence against Asian Americans after the Atlanta-area shootings. Credit: AFP via Getty Images / Jason Redmond

Stopping hate from going viral

President Joe Biden is stepping up to lead condemnation of anti-Asian prejudice. The itinerary for a previously planned trip to Atlanta on Friday has been changed so he can meet with leaders of the city's Asian American community in the aftermath of the shooting spree there this week that left eight people dead, including six women of Asian descent, with investigations looking into a possible motive of racism.

Biden also issued a proclamation for U.S. flags at federal buildings to be lowered to half-staff through sunset Monday "as a mark of respect for the victims of the senseless acts of violence." Biden will "talk about his commitment to combating xenophobia, intolerance and hate," said press secretary Jen Psaki.

But there are worries that the surge in hate incidents from mindless scapegoating over the coronavirus could become further inflamed by superpower tensions between the U.S. and China. Though it is a shift from some of former President Donald Trump's policies, Biden's national security team regards Beijing's intentions with more skepticism than previous Democratic administrations, The New York Times reports, and is focused on competing more aggressively to stop Beijing from unfairly gaining an advantage on economic and military power.

Asian American leaders are warning that deepening geopolitical confrontation is exacerbating heightened suspicion, prejudice and violence against their communities. "It is clearly a difficult line to walk," Rep. Judy Chu, a California Democrat who chairs of the House Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, told The Washington Post. "However, I do believe there is a way of disagreeing with China’s policies without denigrating the Chinese people themselves."

At a House Judiciary Committee hearing Thursday on bias incidents — scheduled before Tuesday's Atlanta-area attacks — Asian American lawmakers urged Republicans to tone down their rhetoric. Rep. Chip Roy (R-Texas) complained that Democrats were seeking a "policing of rhetoric in a free society." Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), an Air Force veteran, countered: "I served in active duty so you can say whatever you want under the First Amendment. You can say racist stupid stuff if you want. But I'm asking you to please stop using racist terms like ‘Kung Flu,’ or ‘Wuhan virus’ or other ethnic identifiers in describing this virus … it hurts the Asian American community."

Roy, while agreeing that victims of "race-based violence and their families deserve justice," bizarrely expressed what sounded like nostalgia for lynchings. He said, "We believe in justice. There are old sayings in Texas about ‘Find all the rope in Texas and get a tall oak tree.’ We take justice very seriously. And we ought to do that. Round up the bad guys."

Rep. Grace Meng (D-Queens) grew emotional when she addressed Roy and his comments. "Your president [Trump] and your party and your colleagues can talk about issues with any other country that you want, but you don't have to do it by putting a bull's-eye on the back of Asian Americans across this country, on our grandparents, on our kids." (Watch her video appearance.)

Meeting halfway, but not

The first face-to-face encounter between senior officials from the Biden administration and China sounded more like a Twitter fight than an exercise in diplomacy.

Meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, the U.S. delegation led by Secretary of State Antony Blinken and national security adviser Jake Sullivan accused China of threatening world stability while China's team derided America as a human rights hypocrite due to mistreatment of Black citizens. The exchange took place in front of journalists before closed-door sessions began. As reporters were about to be initially ushered out, Sullivan waved them to stay to hear more of the U.S. response.

Blinken said the U.S. will not stop holding China accountable for its actions in places like Hong Kong, where Beijing has cracked down on pro-democracy activists; its economic coercion of other countries; and what U.S. officials and human rights groups allege is a genocidal campaign against Uyghur Muslims in China’s Xinjiang region. Chinese Communist Party foreign affairs chief Yang Jiechi contended the United States uses its financial and military might to bully other countries.

After the fractious open session, a senior U.S. official accused the Chinese diplomats of "grandstanding," perhaps for their domestic audience. The talks were scheduled to continue through Friday.

Putin takes offense

Vladimir Putin had a snappy retort to the "killer" label hung on him by Biden. "It takes one to know one," the Russian president said Thursday during a televised videoconference celebrating the anniversary of Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea. In another comment open to varying interpretations, Putin said of Biden: "I wish him health, and I say that without any irony or joking."

Biden's remark in an ABC interview aired Tuesday sparked the biggest flare-up in bilateral relations in years, with Russia ordering its Washington ambassador back to Moscow for urgent consultations.

Psaki said Biden stood by his remarks, but she didn't further escalate the sniping. Putin and Biden "certainly have different perspectives on their respective countries and how to approach engagement in the world, but where they agree is that we should continue to look for ways to work together," she said.

Janison: Beefing with the bear

Biden might well have cause to take Putin’s international antics personally, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Not only did the veteran autocrat tilt toward Trump in two U.S. elections, but operatives in Putin's sphere of influence reportedly fed Trump allies undocumented corruption claims against the former vice president and his kin.

Going forward, the more relevant question is what payback and consequence the U.S. deems appropriate, and what risks the administration runs in taking tough stances with Russia in months and years ahead.

Perhaps Biden is simply removing the cozy frame through which his predecessor and Putin addressed each other. Perhaps there are substantial policy shifts that might risk an escalation of the hostilities that — for all the cordiality of the men at the top — lingered through the Trump years.

100 million shots and counting

Delivering a progress report on the state of COVID-19 vaccinations, Biden said the 100th million shot will be delivered by Friday, his 58th day in office — beating the goal he set of reaching that milestone by his 100th day, reports Newsday's Laura Figueroa Hernandez.

There were critics outside the administration who suggested that this first goal lowballed expectations. Biden said he'll set the next vaccination goal in the coming days.

"This is a time for optimism, but it's not time for relaxation," the president said. "I need all Americans, I need all of you to do your part."

Needles for neighbors

Psaki said the White House plans to provide Mexico and Canada with a surplus of the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine, which has not yet been submitted for U.S. approval but has been authorized by the World Health Organization.

While officials said it was not a quid pro quo, Mexico is taking steps to help the United States contain a migration surge along its southern border, The Washington Post reported. Mexico pledged to take back more Central American families expelled under a U.S. emergency health order. Mexico also announced Thursday announced that it would close its southern and northern borders to nonessential travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Both Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador have pressed Biden in recent conversations for vaccines to help their lagging inoculation programs. The Biden administration has said it needed to make sure first that there would be enough doses for Americans' needs.

More coronavirus news

See a roundup of the latest regional pandemic developments on Long Island and beyond by Newsday's reporting staff, written by Robert Brodsky. For a full list of Newsday's coronavirus stories, click here.

What else is happening:

  • The U.S. Senate confirmed Xavier Becerra, California's liberal attorney general, to lead the Department of Health and Human Services by a one-vote margin, of 50-49. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine broke ranks with Republicans to approve Becerra, allowing Democrats to overcome the absence of Sen. Mazie Hirono, who an aide said was home in Hawaii because of a family emergency.
  • Nine House Republicans joined Democrats to pass a measure to provide a pathway to citizenship for "Dreamers" — immigrants brought illegally to the U.S. as children. The legislation's chances in the Senate are uncertain.
  • Students who were defrauded by their colleges and received only partial relief from their federal loans could now see them fully canceled, the Biden administration announced Thursday. That's a reversal of a Trump administration policy. About $1 billion for 72,000 borrowers who attended for-profit schools could be affected, the Department of Education said.
  • The Senate on Thursday confirmed William Burns to be CIA director in a unanimous voice vote. The veteran diplomat has served both Democratic and Republican presidents for more than 30 years.
  • Biden is expected to nominate former Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida, who flew on Space Shuttle Columbia as an astronaut in 1986, to lead NASA, Politico reported.
  • Former Trump personal lawyer Michael Cohen, who's been dropping dimes on his ex-client's financial practices, will meet on Friday with investigators from the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office for an eighth time, The Associated Press reported.
  • The Army has rejected an appeal to return medals for valor to retired Maj. Mathew Golsteyn, a Special Forces soldier accused of war crimes in Afghanistan who was pardoned by Trump, according to USA Today.

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