The Sinophobia hidden behind the “TikTok ban” worsens stereotypes of Chinese Americans

Jiayi Li, Yearbook Managing Editor

Sinophobia still runs rampant in America. People pulled their eyes back when ridiculing my face. People said “Ching” and “Chong” when mocking my native language. People purposely mispronounced my Chinese name when trying to aggravate me. From the first year that I moved to America until now, I learned to fight the discrimination I faced as a Chinese American. The latest exhibition of anti-Chinese sentiments is by America’s government through the potential “TikTok ban.”

The Senate introduced the RESTRICT Act, a bipartisan act that proposes the federal government oversee apps by foreign countries, namely Cuba, Iran, North Korea, Russia, Venezuela, Hong Kong and China. This includes restricting Chinese-owned apps like TikTok and WeChat. Although the RESTRICT Act does not call out TikTok specifically, sponsors of this act and other senators called to expedite a ban on TikTok because its affiliation with the Chinese Communist Party makes it a national threat. They are also trying to transfer ownership from ByteDance to an American company. 

I do not and never will support the Chinese government in its current state, nor do I believe that TikTok is completely safe. Additionally, online data privacy is an important matter that needs to be improved. However, it feels like TikTok is targeted by the government to this extent, not because it poses a security threat, but because ByteDance, its parent company, is located in China. When junior and Chinese American Ulysses Campise watched the congressional hearing, he thought the hearing was rooted in Sinophobia and political inaccuracies. 

“[Sinophobia] has always been an underlying thing with TikTok because its sister company is in China. That created a general feeling of distrust with TikTok, even though during the Trump administration, we had created a deal with TikTok, which created the TikTok-Oracle deal. It essentially protects all of our US data in Texas from TikTok. The Chinese would have no way of accessing it, so it was a bit weird how much the Chinese were brought up in the hearing. There were a lot of different factors, making it a very biased and not politically accurate hearing,” Campise said.

In 2020, when the Trump Administration went through a similar process with TikTok, they ended with an agreement between the TikTok company, Oracle and Trump. Oracle, an American software maker, stores American TikTok users’ data, but TikTok ownership will remain the same. Now, Congress wants TikTok to pass its ownership to an American company.

“I really don’t feel any risks associated with data security with TikTok, especially considering the Oracle program we have and other factors that should have been brought up in the hearing,” Campise said.

Junior Cindy Liu is not a TikTok user. She, like many other people in America, has made their own choice not to use TikTok. Despite wanting to distance herself from TikTok, this bill would associate Liu with TikTok because she is Chinese American. 

“The whole thing seems like a ‘hate on China’ kind of thing. People are antagonizing Chinese people along with the Communist Party. That really bothers me and makes me uncomfortable. I feel like what a lot of people are doing right now in Congress is antagonizing the Chinese people and not just the country. Doing this will only spread fear and anti-Chinese sentiment,” Liu said. 

Like many immigrants, Liu and her family traveled to America for a better, safer life. However, when banning TikTok, the United States democratic government is emulating the censorship seen by China’s government and violating the Constitution. If this bill were to pass, the United States would be practicing censorship of media similar to the censorship practiced by the Chinese Communist Party.

“For one, fighting fire with fire is not going to work. Just because they do something bad doesn’t mean you need to do something bad, too. It’s incredibly hypocritical of them. China’s Communist Party runs on a different kind of political ideology. If we have freedom of speech, we have what China doesn’t, so to be like, ‘Well, China’s doing it’ doesn’t mean that we can do it, too,” Liu said. 

I am not advocating for a total loss of control. For example, in Virginia, Governor Ralph Youngkin banned TikTok, WeChat and other Chinese-owned applications and websites from devices and IT used by state government authorities. If Youngkin believes that the Chinese Communist Party threatens the state’s national security, I respect his choice of taking the necessary measures to prevent privacy loss on a state government level. This is still constitutional. It does not restrict Americans’ freedom of speech, only the use of applications from foreign countries on government devices. 

“If they feel that it can’t be used on state-level devices because there’s a data threat, it doesn’t affect enough people where it really is a concern. If they want to be paranoid on a state-level device, I can see that, even though I don’t think the risk is necessarily there. I can see it coming from an ‘It’s better safe than sorry’-type attitude,” Campise said.

If the United States were to adopt a more authoritarian government and ban TikTok from devices for day-to-day use, we would be experiencing the same censorship that many immigrants ran away from. 

“It’s going to open the door for more Sinophobic actions in the future. For Chinese Americans, it makes our life here harder because a lot of people are coming here, including my parents to look for a better life and doing all this will not help them do that,” Liu said.

Regardless of whether the RESTRICT Act will pass or fail, nothing can erase the Sinophobia that arose from it. Many Chinese Americans would be impacted by this social and political racism for many years following the banning of TikTok. 

“There’s a chance that it could go through, but I think there’s also a good chance that it could fail. We can still actually affect it, so contact our representatives. I advise people who don’t want it to be banned to email them,” Campise said.