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Anti-Bill Richardson Petition Is Not Racial, Says Chinese Media

New America Media, News Analysis, Jun Wang Posted: Dec 17, 2008

Editors Note: President-elect Barack Obamas nomination of Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce sparked a wave of protest in the Chinese American community, because of Richardsons connection with the Wen Ho Lee case but Chinese American media denies that their cause has anything to do with anti-Latino sentiment. Jun Wang is an editor with New America Media.

This Monday, President-elect Barack Obama officially nominated Nobel Prize winner Steven Chu to be U.S. Energy Secretary. Chinese American media reports that, to some extent, this nomination makes up for the Wen Ho Lee debacle, when Chinese American scientist Lee was wrongly accused of espionage and imprisoned for nine months.

But Chinese Americans continue to circulate a petition initiated by Chinese scholars and human rights activists against the appointment of Bill Richardson as Secretary of Commerce because he was involved in Lees persecution, and are outraged over what they call misleading, racial coverage by mainstream media about this issue.

On December 2nd, the San Jose Mercury News published a story with the headline "Chinese American Activists Oppose Any Bill Richardson Cabinet Nomination," reporting that the petition is "bound to create political tension between Latinos and Asian Americans."

The article also states: "Chinese Americans say they realize that challenging the nomination of Richardson, 61, the nation's most high-profile Hispanic politician will ruffle the Latino community, many of whose leaders felt he should have been named secretary of state instead of Sen. Hillary Clinton."

The Sing Tao Daily, one of the leading Chinese-language newspapers in the United States, published an editorial on Dec. 3rd calling the San Jose Mercury News' reporting on the petition biased.

For Chinese Americans, the rift created by Lees case is still not completely healed, especially when it comes to Richardson. Former President Bill Clinton, Judge James Parker and mainstream newspapers including the New York Times have apologized to Lee since the incident. Yet Richardson the U.S. Secretary of Energy during the Clinton Administration, and seen as responsible for the witch hunt that brought Lee down, has refused to apologize or voice his regrets.

The Sing Tao editorial argues that coverage of Chinese American protests has falsely portrayed this as a racial issue. "The Mercury News called the protests a potential racial conflict, which is not only misleading, but also provokes racial conflict itself."

The San Jose Mercury News did not respond to requests for comment.

Yu-ru Chen, editor-in-chief of the World Journal, another prominent U.S. Chinese-language newspaper, agrees that the petition is a human rights issue, and does not pose a threat to relations between ethnic communities. Chen said to cover the issue from a potential racial conflict angle reveals "hidden motives" aimed at undermining the union among ethnic communities.

The World Journal was the first newspaper to support the petition challenging Richardson's nomination, according to Chen.

The Chinese community acknowledges Richardson's service and contribution to the country, Chen says. However, Chen says, Richardson's response to the Lee case has been inappropriate and unjust. 

"The petition has only been signed by Chinese Americans so far, but what if people in China join?" he asks. "Won't it be an embarrassment to the United States, which has long been a human rights leader in the world?"

Chinese media based in California expect senators to question the nomination based on human rights considerations. As Commerce Secretary, especially in the current global economic crisis, Richardson will have to deal with China, one of the United States' most important partners. With the Chinese community around the world calling on Richardson to apologize for his role in the Lee case, Chen believes that Richardson will have no choice but to address the issue.

In Chinese philosophy, crisis and opportunity are two sides of the same coin. "If [Richardson] positively responds to the Wen Ho Lee case, the current crisis could turn into an opportunity for him," Chen says. However, if Richardson doesn't handle the issue well, more tough issues will be waiting for him when he takes his position as Commerce Secretary.

"It's true that Richardson is of Latino descent and those who are protesting (his appointment) are Chinese. But that doesn't necessarily mean it's a racial conflict," Sing Tao Daily editors write in the editorial. "Can't the Chinese community voice their opinion about a national issue other than for racial reasons? Is it necessary to see everything (related to the Chinese community) through a racial lens?"

"Actually Chinese and Latinos have the same standing point," Chen says. "We're all struggling to be treated equally by mainstream society. If the human rights of someone from the Latino community gets violated, we (Chinese) will stand up for him or her."

Covering the petition from a racial conflict perspective is equivalent to breaking apart a united country, Chen says. "How they deal with the petition based on the Wen Ho Lee issue is not only a test of Bill Richardson, but also a test of our character as U.S. citizens."

Related Articles:

Steven ChuSmart Policy, Not Politics

Push for Diversity in an Obama Administration

China Spies And The Wen Ho Lee Hangover

What We Have (Not) Learned from Wen Ho Lee

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