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Behind the Headlines: APA News Blog

Academic Version: Applying my personal experiences and academic research as a professor of Sociology and Asian American Studies to provide a more complete understanding of political, economic, and cultural issues and current events related to American race relations, and Asia/Asian America in particular.

Plain English: Trying to put my Ph.D. to good use.

October 31, 2006

Written by C.N.

Questions of Loyalty and Asian American Identity

Is it morally right to fight in Iraq? This question is at the heart of Lt. Ehren Watada’s story, featured in the L.A. Times, October 16, 2006, by Teresa Watanabe.

Watada, 28, is an Army first lieutenant who earlier this year became the first commissioned officer to refuse deployment to Iraq, calling the war illegal and immoral. Although other soldiers have refused deployment, his status as an officer sets his case apart. The Honolulu native of Japanese and Chinese descent faces a general court-martial and up to seven years in prison for charges involving refusal to deploy, criticism of President Bush and “conduct unbecoming of an officer.”

…The elder Watada [Lt. Watada’s father, Bob] said his son joined the Army to help protect the country after 9/11. But when his superiors told him to study up on the Iraq War, Watada concluded that U.S. officials launched it in violation of U.S. and international laws. The turning point, the elder Watada said, was in January, when Ehren heard the father of an injured soldier lament on a radio show: “Why can’t anyone stand up and stop this?” “He thought the guy was talking to him,” Watada said of his son. “He thought he was the person who had to stand up.”

This case is reopening old wounds among Japanese Americans. Most Americans are more likely to know about the internment camps and of the Nisei volunteers who served in the military, rather than the draft resisters derisively labeled as “no-no boys.” Lt. Watada’s refusal to serve in Iraq has touched a nerve among Japanese Americans, particularly among the veterans, despite his willingness to serve in Afghanistan.

… “The Watada case has provoked so much emotion because it raises the question of loyalty, and that question severely tested Japanese Americans during World War II,” said Lane Hirabayashi of UCLA, the first professor in the nation to hold an academic chair dedicated to the study of Japanese internment. “It raises a lot of controversies that I don’t think have ever been fully resolved.” Debate lingers over how Japanese Americans responded after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Even as the attack prompted the internment of more than 110,000 Japanese Americans and their immigrant parents in remote camps, thousands of young men and women enlisted in the U.S. military, determined to prove their loyalty. Their service record has made them community icons of mythological proportions. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team and the 100th Battalion, composed mainly of Japanese Americans, became one of the most highly decorated units in U.S. military history.

But a small minority refused to enlist and were harshly ostracized, Hirabayashi said. They included draft resisters who refused to serve unless their civil and constitutional rights were restored. They also included those know as “no-no boys,” for answering negatively to a government loyalty questionnaire asking if they would serve in the U.S. military and renounce allegiance to the emperor of Japan.

Bitterness between the two sides persists today. Hirabayashi and others, for instance, tell tales of brothers who never spoke again after one resisted and the other served. Ellen Endo, editor of Rafu Shimpo, the Los Angeles Japanese newspaper, calls the Watada debate the most emotional community divide she’s seen in four decades.

Nisei and other Asian American veterans deserve respect from their for their valor and service, but uncritical deference blinds us from examining the deeper issues of Asian American identity. To allow uncompromising veterans and pro-war factions to brand Lt. Watada as a modern day “no-no boy” and disavow him from Asian America, is to fail to exorcise the ghosts of the internment camps. It is to say that we Asian Americans must wave the flag more vigorously than whites to prove their loyalty.

Citizenship and patriotism does not equate to flag-waving and blind obedience. Soldiers are sworn to defend their country, but they are also citizens and thereby have responsibility to refuse criminal or immoral orders. If such posture is unpatriotic, shameful, or foolish as some critics call it, I wonder how history would have been so different if the Japanese and German soldiers had taken that same stance in large numbers.

Lt. Watada is not a coward; his physical courage is corroborated by his willingness to deploy to Afghanistan. This case highlights a deficit of moral courage in American society; be it members of the press who evade questioning the morality of going to war in Iraq, or pro-war cohorts who deflect moral responsibility by taking refuge behind the uniform and flag.

In the words of Bill Moyers, “come to think of it, sometimes standing up to your government is to stand up for your country.” Perhaps the time has arrived for us Asian Americans to treat the Watada case as a chance to assert our individuality and independence as a people, rather than treating it as another test of loyalty.

October 26, 2006

Written by C.N.

Chinese Students Required to Learn Golf

I’ve written before about how American-style capitalism is inevitably spreading around the globe and influencing traditional Asian cultures. Here’s an another example of that phenomenon: as MSNBC reports, many Chinese business school students are being required to learn how to play golf to help them succeed in international business dealings once they graduate:

“The aim is to help the students find good jobs,” a sports professor at the school, Chen Xiao, was quoted as saying. “Many Chinese business deals are clinched on golf courses.” Elite Peking University set off a debate over whether golf is appropriate for China, where most people still live in poverty, when it announced in August that it was building a practice green. Some students complained the sport was too elitist, but supporters defended it as a healthy social activity.

Ahhh, the long arm of capitalism never ceases to amaze me. I just hope that one staple of the American capitalist system that Asian students don’t learn is how to discriminate against perceived outsiders by erecting glass ceiling barriers in their way.

October 24, 2006

Written by C.N.

Debate Continues on Affirmative Action

Debates relating to affirmative action seem to be heating up again. This fall, voters in Michigan will vote on a ballot initiative that would prohibit the use of race or gender in university admissions. In this context, how Asian Americans fit into the equation is also still being debated. As printed at Diverse Issues in Education Magazine, one commentary notes that Asian Americans tend to be consistently portrayed in biased ways regarding how affirmative action affects them:

Real discrimination against Asian Americans is whitewashed, and they are used for strategic purposes to attack other people of color. Ironically, groups that proclaim their belief in color-blindness show themselves readily able to be color-conscious in the most divisive manner. They have no problem pointing at Asian Americans if it suits their cause.

It is this cynicism that has led many Asian Americans who have studied affirmative action to become advocates for it. Law professor Sumi Cho observes that demagogues are trying to turn Asian Americans into “racial mascots” to camouflage an agenda that, if presented by Whites on their own behalf, would look too much like naked self-interest. Law professor Mari Matsuda proclaimed in a famous speech given to the Asian Law Caucus in San Francisco, “We will not be used.”

The commentary references an earlier study, about which I previously posted, that documents the real problem facing Asian Americans — that we are not victims of affirmative action per se, but of plain and simple racial discrimination. That is, Asian American college applicants tend to be held to a higher standard than other applicants for no apparent, justifiable reason.

To prove that point, the study showed that once affirmative action was ended in California, Texas, and Washington, the number of Asian American law school students actually declined, rather than increased as many anti-affirmative action supporters believed. In this context, the real “winners” of ending affirmative action would not be Asian Americans, but Whites since they enjoy other advantages such as legacy clauses that many other applicants don’t.

As a supporter of affirmative action, I hope that ballot initiatives like Michigan’s are defeated. At the same time, the other necessary step is to ensure that Asian American applicants are judged by the same criteria as Whites and other students, rather than being subjected to arbitrarily elevated standards. Finally and at the very least, anti-affirmative action supporters need to stop using Asian Americans as spokespeople because the data clearly does not justify doing so.

October 22, 2006

Written by C.N.

Vietnamese American Candidate Accused of Voter Intimidation

During the 2000 and 2004 elections, Republicans were accused of trying suppress minority and immigrant votes in many key states. Whether they are true or not, it’s pretty clear that voter intimidation is more associated with conservatives and Republicans than it is with liberals and Democrats. Are Republicans in fact more likely to try to suppress votes? It certainly doesn’t help their cause with stories like this — a Republican Vietnamese American candidate has been accused of illegally intimidating Democratic Hispanic voters in California:

[T]he investigation appeared to be focused on the campaign of Tan D. Nguyen, a Republican challenger to Democratic U.S. Rep. Loretta Sanchez. The letter, written in Spanish, tells recipients: “You are advised that if your residence in this country is illegal or you are an immigrant, voting in a federal election is a crime that could result in jail time.” In fact, immigrants who are naturalized U.S. citizens can vote. . . .

Scott Baugh, chairman of the Orange County Republican Party, condemned the letter as “an obnoxious, grotesque piece of work.” “Regardless of who did it — Republican or Democrat — if it’s a crime, then whoever did it should be prosecuted,” Baugh said. A group of six Vietnamese-American political candidates running for offices in Orange County issued a joint statement saying: “The content of this mailer is offensive to the immigrant voters, regardless of their ethnicity.”

The note’s letterhead resembles that of an anti-illegal immigration group, California Coalition for Immigration Reform, but group leader Barbara Coe said she told investigators for the attorney general’s office Wednesday that her group didn’t authorize the letter and she didn’t know who sent it. . . . Numerous political leaders including Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger have denounced the letter and called for the investigations.

Tan Nguyen has denied having any knowledge of this act, instead blaming his one of his campaign workers for unilaterally creating and mailing these flyers. As a Vietnamese American myself, I really want to believe him. However, given how rabid — and yes even extremist — many Vietnamese Americans can be in terms of their political expressions, I’m afraid that I’m a little skeptical at his excuse. In fact, I think he’s lying.

If Tan Nguyen is the person responsible for this act, all I have to say is — Wow. In one fell swoop, Nguyen has managed to (1) commit an illegal fact in violation of federal voting laws, (2) cause his own political party to denounce such actions, (3) mobilized his Democratic opponents to capitalize on such a monumental bonehead move, and (3) embarrass the entire Vietnamese American community, regardless of political beliefs.

Nice job, Tan. You deserve to go down for that — hard.

October 19, 2006

Written by C.N.

Experiencing Race in the U.S.

It’s not likely that all groups of color share similar political and social views. But just how different are these views between Blacks, Latinos, and Asian Americans? A new study by researchers at Northwestern University tries to shed light on this question and finds some interesting patterns:

Affluent Asian Americans are significantly more opposed to affirmative action than poorer Asian Americans. More than half of Asian Americans studied were in the upper-income group. Affluent Asian Americans reported significantly fewer incidents of personal discrimination than poorer Asian Americans. But Asian Americans regardless of income said opportunities are open to them.

Affluent Latinos saw more opportunity and reported few discrimination encounters. But affluent Black people were more likely to support affirmative action, feeling their fate was tied to the fate of lower-income Black people. Black people across incomes agreed that “group opportunities and social conditions remain poor despite individual examples of success.”

“When African Americans achieve higher economic status, they continue to experience discrimination and to evaluate their life prospects in racial terms.” In fact middle-class Black people report more personal discrimination than poor Black people. Maybe partly because poor Black folk aren’t going to fancy restaurants and mixing it up in offices. And if someone treats you like you’re broke and you are, it may not register as discrimination.

In short, for Latinos and Asian Americans, social class seems to have a large influence on one’s political and social views, as the richer you are, the less likely you are to support group-based policies such as affirmative action. However, for Blacks, there seems to be much more uniformity across social classes in terms of their political and social views.

As a sociologist, I also wonder whether the differences between Asians and Latinos on the one hand and Blacks on the other are because there is much more ethnic diversity among Asians and Latinos compared to Blacks and combined with the fact that Blacks share the common ancestral legacy of surviving slavery, that there just isn’t a single uniting historical legacy that unites virtually all Asians or Latinos.

In other words, Chinese Americans may share the historical legacy of systematic exclusion, Japanese Americans may share the legacy of internment, Cubans may share the legacy of the Cuban Revolution, etc. but no single historical episode seems to unite all Asians or all Latinos in the same way that slavery united the histories of Blacks. Perhaps that is why there seems to be less cohesion in terms of political and social views for Asians and Latinos.

As an Asian American scholar, I can attest that this lack of cohesion is one of the main challenges I and others like me face in trying to promote a pan-Asian American identity that would transcend this myriad of ethnic, economic, and historical differences that exist between Asian Americans.

October 17, 2006

Written by C.N.

300 Million Americans

You’ve probably heard by now that according to Census Bureau calculations, earlier today, the U.S. population officially reached the 300 million mark. Of course, there are numerous cultural, economic, and political implications of this accomplishment, but you might be interested to know that as the Springfield Republican reports, when the U.S. population topped 200 million in 1967, an Asian American was proclaimed by Life Magazine as the 200 millionth American:

When [Robert Ken Woo Jr.] was born Nov. 20, 1967, at 11:03 a.m. EST in Atlanta’s Crawford Long Hospital, Life magazine proclaimed him the 200 millionth American. In the years since, he has worn his footnote in history lightly and well. However, his flicker of fame has been fanned anew by the approaching milestone.

“I never took it that seriously,” Woo, now a prosperous lawyer in Atlanta, says of his place in the annals of American trivia. “To me it seemed very random.” . . . Sally Woo awoke after delivery to snapping photographers. . . . One year, Woo remembers, a photographer prostrated himself to get a good shot of him on his bicycle. “I am watching this full-grown man in a suit lying down on my driveway.”

Another year, a photographer appeared at his kindergarten class. “I did not like that at all.” Occasional news stories would alert Georgians to Woo’s progress: The 200 millionth American graduates from Harvard and Harvard Law School. The 200 millionth American becomes the first Asian-American partner at the law firm, King & Spalding.

It’s certainly appropriate that the face of contemporary American society is likely to be multicultural and ethnically diverse. Of course, there will be plenty of people who scoff at the thought that the “average” American in anyone other than White. But as the statistics (and reality) show, for better or for worse, as a proportion of the total population, Whites are shrinking.

However, that is not enough reason to be paranoid or angry. In fact, I can think of plenty of better reasons why Whites (and anybody else for that matter) should be angry at the state of the nation. My point is, rather than who our neighbors are or what race the “average” American is likely to be, the only thing we as Americans need to fear are policies and actions that put each of us in conflict with others.

In other words, if you want to solve a “problem,” get at the cause, don’t just treat the symptoms.

October 15, 2006

Written by C.N.

Bangladeshi Wins Nobel Peace Prize

Earlier today, it was announced that the winner of the 2006 Nobel Peace Prize is Muhammad Yunus, a Bangladeshi economist whose bank has been instrumental in facilitating small business ownership and reducing poverty in Bangladesh:

Muhammad Yunus . . . pioneered the use of microcredit, the extension of small loans to benefit poor entrepreneurs. Grameen Bank has been instrumental in helping millions of poor Bangladeshis, many of them women, improve their standard of living by letting them borrow tiny sums to start businesses.

Loans go toward buying items such as cows to start a dairy, chickens for an egg business, or cell phones to start businesses where villagers who have no access to phones pay a small fee to make calls. “Lasting peace can not be achieved unless large population groups find ways in which to break out of poverty,” the Nobel Committee said. . . .

Yunus founded Grameen Bank in 1976, after lending $27 out of his pocket to help 42 women in Bangladesh buy weaving stools. . . . Today the bank claims to have 6.6 million borrowers, 97 percent of whom are women, and provides services in more than 70,000 villages in Bangladesh. Its model of micro-financing has inspired similar efforts around the world.

Congratulations to Mr. Yunus and the entire nation of Bangladesh for this inspiring example of how a little generosity can go a long way, in terms of reducing poverty and elevating the morale of an entire nation. I hope this achievement stands as an example that other countries, financial institutions, and affluent individuals to follow.

October 12, 2006

Written by C.N.

Asian Americans Applying for College: Too Asian?

Is it an advantage or disadvantage to be applying for college as an Asian American? This was one of the questions asked at the recent annual conference of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. As Inside Higher Education reports, meeting’s participants had plenty to say in regard to how Asian Americans are treated compared to other groups when it comes to applying for college admissions:

“Rachel, for an Asian, has many friends.” That’s the kind of line that apparently is turning up more and more in letters of recommendation on behalf of Asian American applicants to top colleges. . . . [M]any in the audience at first seemed angry that in 2006 people would reference race in that way. But when it came time for audience comments, one high school counselor said that counselors feel they have no choice but to mention students’ Asian status and to try to make it seem like their Asian students are different from other Asian students.

“We make those comparisons because we feel it’s the only way we can get through and get our students looked at,” said the counselor, to knowing nods from others in the audience. Many Asian students and their families have for years believed that quotas or bias hinder their chances at top Ivy or California universities. But to listen to panelists — and members of a standing room only audience — the intensity of concern has grown, as has mistrust of the system. . . .

Based on working with institutions where Asian enrollment exceed 25 percent — something that is increasingly common at elite publics in California and top universities elsewhere — she said she hears lots of talk about admissions officers who complain about “yet another Asian student who wants to major in math and science and who plays the violin” or people who say “I don’t want another boring Asian.”

As previous studies have argued and as this article also describes, for whatever reasons, Asian American applicants are evaluated using a different and arbitrarily higher set of standards than other applicants. In other words, the reason why the admissions rates for Asian American applicants is the lowest among all major racial groups is because of racial discrimination, plain and simple.

I can appreciate that colleges don’t want a campus full of students who want to major in math and science and who play the violin. At the same time, I think it’s disgraceful, unacceptable, and yes, racist for college administrators to automatically assume that even if many of their Asian American applicants want to major in math and science and play violin, that they do have any other unique or interesting qualities, interests, or life experiences.

Beyond the simple fact that the category of “Asian American” itself contains many diverse ethnic groups, even Asian Americans who share similar majors can be quite diverse in many other ways. With this in mind, college administrators who reject Asian American applicants based solely on this superficial and misguided criteria are perpetrating racial discrimination based on biased and prejudicial assumptions, pure and simple.

October 8, 2006

Written by C.N.

Malaysia to Punish Malay-English Language

I have previously written several posts that describe how American culture has been and continues to penetrate traditional Asian cultures and societies, whether that relates to body image, fast food and health, corporate capitalism, or social relations. However, as the Associated Press/Salon reports, Malaysia is trying to buck that trend by punishing those who use a slang language that combines English with the traditional Malay language:

Malaysia will levy fines on those incorrectly using the national language, and will set up a specialized division to weed out offenders who mix Malay with English, news reports said Thursday. Culture, Arts and Heritage Minister Rais Yatim said fines of up to 1,000 ringgit ($271) can be imposed on displays with any wrong or mutated form of Malay, the Star newspaper reported. The move was to ensure “the national language was not sidelined in any way,” Rais said, according to The Star. . . .

Most Malaysians speak Malay, also known as Bahasa Malaysia, while English is widely spoken but a mutated form, known as “Manglish” — a mishmash of English, Malay and other local dialects is commonly used in the Southeast Asian nation. The government will attempt to swap commonly used English language words with Malay substitutes, The Star said. “It has to be admitted that a mixture of Bahasa Malaysia and English sometimes cannot be helped, but we hope these measures can arrest the decline,” Rais said, according to The Star.

Malaysia is certainly going against the grain in this instance. Whereas other countries are increasingly embracing American culture and the English language, Malaysia apparently wants its citizens to return to a more pure Malay language usage. On the one hand, I might applaud this trend as a way to preserve valuable traditional Malay culture from the “onslaught” of American and other foreign influences.

On the other hand, I can’t help but to question whether this development will put Malaysia and its citizens at a competitive disadvantage. In other words, whether people like it or not, the practical reality is that English has become the de facto standard international language and that as each country becomes increasingly globalized, transnational, and globally interdependent, English fluency is likely to become even more important and useful.

Perhaps Malaysia is only trying to reduce the use of the “Manglish,” the bastardized Malay-English combination, rather than reduce English per se. Whatever the case, Malaysia should be wary of the consequences in the near and long term future.

October 5, 2006

Written by C.N.

Recognizing Media Stereotypes

Many Asian Americans have consistently noted through the years that the mainstream media and entertainment industry too often just does not “get it” when it comes to portraying Asian Americans in a balanced and non-stereotypical way. With that in mind, it’s always nice to find instances in which the establishment actually recognizes this shortcoming and fesses up about it. Such is the case in a recent article by ABC News:

Hollywood likes to paint different groups with broad strokes. Southerners are backward. Priests are pedophiles. Mexicans are lazy. Italians have links to the Mob. Few groups with as long a history in this country as Asian-Americans have been portrayed in such a limited variety of roles: The kung fu fighter. The studious nerd. The mercenary businessman. The “Dragon Lady.” The prostitute.

In his new documentary, “The Slanted Screen,” writer/producer/director Jeff Adachi says these narrow screen portrayals are dangerous because they affect the way Asian-Americans are perceived in the real world, shaping and defining their identities. . . . Even more insulting was the fact that many Asian characters, like Charlie Chan, were played by white actors in what is called “yellowface” — wearing devices like eyepieces and rubber bands to “slant” the eyes, dark makeup, and false buck teeth to try and “pass” as Asian.

Many Asians reveled in the success of martial arts expert Bruce Lee, who became a star in America with the 1973 film “Enter the Dragon.” But this too became a stereotype, says Tisa Chang, director of New York’s Pan Asian Repertory Theatre, as Asian-American actors emulated Lee and began studying kung fu. “So now the flip side of stereotyping is that every Asian-American actor is expected to know some form of martial arts. Any casting person will say, ‘Well, do you do some martial arts?'”

I give ABC News credit for covering this issue, especially in light of the Asian American Justice Center’s report that the major networks are woefully lagging when it comes to equal representation of Asian Americans and other groups of color in their TV shows. As those 12 steps programs tend to say, the first step in getting help is admitting that you have a problem.

The next step of course, is concrete action to ensure that (1) there are more roles offered to Asian American actors whether those roles are ethnic-specific or not and (2) making sure those roles do not perpetuate cultural stereotypes about Asian Americans and Asian culture. To be honest, I may be a little too pessimistic but I do not have much faith in the mainstream media to make these necessary changes.

At the very least, articles like this at least show that there are some in the media industry who do “get it” — we just need more of them in decision-making positions to actually make a difference.

October 3, 2006

Written by C.N.

Woman Suspected as “Tokyo Rose” Dies

People who aren’t familiar with World War II will probably not know who the woman identified as “Tokyo Rose” is. Her name is Iva Toguri D’Aquino, a Japanese American woman wrongly convicted of treason by the U.S. after World War II, who died this past week at the age of 90. The Guardian Unlimited has a brief summary of her life and story:

Fresh out of UCLA, she was visiting a sick aunt in Japan when the Pacific war broke out in December 1941. Unable to find a way home, she started working for a Japanese propaganda show produced by Allied prisoners of war called Zero Hour, performing comedy skits and newscasts under the name Orphan Ann. . . . In an exclusive interview with two newspaper reporters, she made remarks that convinced US authorities that she had been the pro-Japanese propagandist known as Tokyo Rose.

It later became clear, however, that no such woman existed and that the nickname had been invented by US troops to describe several women who made propaganda broadcasts under different aliases. . . . Shortly after the war, D’Aquino was released from custody when an investigation . . . failed to produce enough evidence to charge her with aiding the enemy. But her release provoked a public outcry back in the US and led to a concerted campaign against her by the influential newspaper columnist Walter Winchell.

His pressure paid off, and in late 1945 D’Aquino was arrested in Yokohama and sent back to her homeland to face trial. She was convicted of treason four years later. . . . {She] was sentenced to 10 years in prison and fined $10,000. A model prisoner, she was released three years early in 1956, and successfully fought US government attempts to deport her to Japan. In 1977, she was acquitted, post factum, by the then US president, Gerald Ford.

Ron Yates, a reporter on the Chicago Tribune who unearthed evidence that prosecutors had forced witnesses to lie about D’Aquino’s role in the broadcasts, was instrumental in securing the pardon.

Hmmm let’s think about this for a minute — using wartime hysteria, paranoid proclamations of “national security interests,” and falsified intelligence to wrongly detain and convict people perceived as “foreigners” as potential enemies of the state. That sort of thing couldn’t happen nowadays, could it? Someone’s basic civil rights to a fair and impartial trial would never be compromised to such a blatant extent these days, right? Surely presidential administrations would have learned their lessons by now, correct?

Uhhh, no.

October 1, 2006

Written by C.N.

Espionage in Silicon Valley

It is widely believed these days that much (though not all) of China’s products and technologies are based on designs or ideas that have been “inspired by” — many would even say stolen — from other companies and countries. In fact, this type of commercial and military copying is a common technique that developing countries use in order to close the modernization gap between them and developed countries. As the San Jose Mercury News reports, law enforcement is paying more attention to economic espionage in Silicon Valley:

The case highlights China’s role as the main adversary in a complex game of 21st-century espionage where many agents aren’t trained spies in trench coats but businessmen, students and researchers. Silicon Valley, counterintelligence experts say, is ground zero. In a global economy where intellectual property has become a valuable currency, state-directed espionage increasingly targets technology and commercial trade secrets to advance a nation’s military and economic strength. . . .

Other countries — including U.S. allies such as France and Israel — also steal American secrets, but China tops the list, experts say. . . . U.S. spy catchers have been accused of unfairly targeting ethnic Chinese. That charge arose in the case of Los Alamos nuclear weapons scientist Wen Ho Lee, a Taiwanese-born American citizen suspected of giving nuclear secrets to China. He was released in 2000 after pleading guilty to a felony count of mishandling classified information.

Even in the aftermath of Lee, some Asian-Americans still complain of racial profiling. “They demonize China and all Chinese-Americans by casting this wide net,” said George Koo, Deloitte & Touche’s director of Chinese Services in San Jose, who has criticized the FBI’s methods. “It’s a situation where every Chinese is required to prove why they’re not a spy.” Szady counters that the government isn’t singling out Chinese-Americans — the Chinese government is.

First I would like to give credit to the San Jose Mercury News for presenting a balanced story that describes many of the allegations against the Chinese in terms of their economic and military espionage activities while also presenting the Chinese side of the story, along with the cultural context of these allegations as they relate to the Asian American population in general.

Too often, when magazines or newspapers talk about Chinese espionage, more often than not, it ends up being a one-sided hysterical indictment of virtually all Chinese (and by implication, virtually all Asian Americans) living in the U.S. — check out the August 2006 issue of Popular Mechanics magazine as an example of this type of biased and incomplete reporting.

Ultimately, I have no doubt that there is a notable level of economic espionage going on around the U.S. by Chinese and whoever in the U.S. they are able to recruit to assist them in their efforts. On the one hand, it would be easy to criticize Chinese companies for resorting to such dishonest means of economic modernization (and perhaps the Chinese government for tacitly tolerating these kinds of activities).

On the other hand, as the article points out, many countries engage in this type of economic espionage and in the end, such activities are so widespread that it has almost become a standard price of doing business. In other words, economic espionage is nothing new or completely unexpected. American companies should do whatever they can to prevent such activities or minimize their damage, but American society in general shouldn’t be so naive and shocked to hear that some companies in a developing country like China resort to such tactics.

China is certainly not the first and certainly will not be the last to use economic espionage as a business tool.