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The Show Must Go On
Chinese-Americans ready to work in harmony with new U.S. president
By Sudeshna Sarkar & Ding Ying | NO. 46 NOVEMBER 17, 2016

Tai-Yin Huang (second left, front row) with other board members of the East Penn Chinese-American Chamber of Commerce (COURTESY OF TAI-YIN HUANG) 

As she was watching the election drama unfold in the United States, a strong feeling dawned on Tai-Yin Huang. The chairperson of the East Penn Chinese-American Chamber of Commerce, a naturalized American citizen who had gone to the United States from Taipei in 1991 to do her Ph.D., Huang regretted the absence of any Chinese-Americans in the contest."One of the major challenges the Chinese in the United States face is that they tend to be inert or indifferent to politics," she said. "The majority of Chinese families traditionally focus on education and shy away from politics. But they are now starting to realize that they have to be vocal and get involved in politics so that they can have a [say] in the United States."

A Chinese hat in the ring

Huang, a Pennsylvania State University professor who last year founded a green energy organization, the Integrated Energy Solution for Entrepreneurs, thinks it is necessary to have Chinese or pro-Chinese organizations that can be a platform for the following generations to observe and learn.

"The challenge is that we do not or have not had strong organizations to speak for the Chinese," she emphasized. "We have many outstanding Chinese people who have accomplished a lot. I'd love to see more of them get into the political arena, starting from the local level, then expanding it to the national level. I hope to see a Chinese-American elected as president of the United States one day."

Like the rest of Americans casting their vote to elect the 45th president in what has come to be regarded as the most controversial, acrimonious and polarizing election in U.S. history, the Chinese-American business community in the United States was also divided. As Huang put it, the two main contestants, Republican Donald Trump and Democrat Hillary Clinton, were both "double-edged swords." While Trump represented unpredictability, Clinton stood for status quo and finally, the die was cast in favor of change and adventure.

"What the American people wanted or needed—stability or adventure—has determined who our next president will be," Huang said. "Being unpredictable, Trump will not be confined to a set of rules or protocols. At the same time, people will not know what he will do. [Had Clinton won] we [would just have] followed the path that is already paved. No surprises and everything under control." The Chinese-American business community, she said, will be apprehensive because they won't know what to expect from Trump, especially as he has "openly expressed his rather disturbing views" on immigrants and China, with thoughts of slapping Chinese exports with a 45-percent tariff. "I think there will be a period of time when the Chinese business community will feel they are skating on thin ice until a new order has been established," she added. "Then they will know how to adjust or adapt to Trump's leadership."

Demi S. Loeser, 54, came to the United States from Liaoning, a province in northeast China, for higher education in 1990. A resident of Toledo in Ohio, she runs Labor Remedy, an industrial cleaning and maintenance service she founded in 1997. With Trump as president, she feels Chinese companies' profit margins would shrink because of his rhetoric about Chinese companies stealing American businesses with their cheap labor. Then there is the threat of the tax on Chinese goods.

AmCham view

Kenneth Jarrett, President of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai, expects that the anti-China and anti-trade rhetoric of the campaign will cool. However, the period ahead will be less predictable than before for the China-U.S. trade relationship.

"It's likely that the new administration will take a tougher stance on trade," Jarrett said. "The demand for a level playing field may be even louder than before and there could be closer attention to reciprocity in trade and investment. However, the election result is a signal that some Americans feel the benefits of globalization and international trade have not reached them."

Would the election result affect American investment in China?

"It is possible that U.S. companies may take a more cautious approach to investment in China until they have a clearer idea of the next administration's trade policies," Jarrett conceded. However, he added that the AmCham Shanghai 2016 Business Survey showed that 81 percent of U.S. companies would continue to increase their investment in China in 2016. "We believe that the positive business sentiment toward investing in China will continue," he said.

'Unfair policy'

Besides opting for change, ironically, some Chinese-Americans chose to support Trump, though painted as anti-immigration by his critics, because they felt angered by the U.S. affirmative action policy. While the policy seeks to correct the injustices done to minority communities, and was staunchly upheld by Bill Clinton during his presidency, it is regarded as being skewed against Asian Americans, especially the Chinese, who bore the brunt of the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, the first major anti-immigration law in the United States.

Wendy Chen, a 36-year-old human resources professional in California, said though she regarded both the presidential candidates as "not being good enough," her vote went to Trump. "I gave up Hillary Clinton mainly because of the Democratic Party's unprincipled policy on illegal immigrants, which is unfavorable to our community, especially in California," she said. "The affirmative action policy is unfair to ethnic Chinese citizens."

As she explained, the policy dictates that when colleges enroll new students from ethnic groups, they need to follow a quota system proportionately based on the population of the groups. In California, Chinese-Americans are far fewer than other ethnic groups. Other minority groups, such as Latin American immigrants, have big families with more children, Chen said. While Trump said in his campaign that he would prevent illegal immigration, Chen said, the Democratic Party did not expressly say it would curb illegal immigrants.

The consequences of illegal immigration, she said, would badly impact Chinese-Americans, especially the young generations: "Most students from ethnic Chinese families achieve excellent scores in college entrance exams because their parents pay special attention to their education. [But faced with the quota system,] it will get harder and harder for our next-generation children to enroll in universities in California. This will be unfair to us. "

The minority status remains a concern for the community. "According to the 2010 census, [the last U.S. census,] there were about 3.8 million Chinese-Americans in the United States," Huang said. "Chinese- Americans are a minority, but they do not have the same legal protection as the African Americans or Latin Americans. I hope we will gather enough support to get the same legal protection they do."

Before the election, media reports and polls seemed to indicate greater voter support for Clinton, especially among Asian Americans. The National Asian American Survey saw researchers quiz 1,700 likely Asian-American voters to predict a trend. But though 57 percent of the respondents professed to be Democrats and only 24 percent identified themselves as Republicans, the strong desire for change seemed to have upset all poll calculations.

"I supported Hillary Clinton before," Wendy Chen said. "But since the email scandal was exposed [about Clinton having used a private server for official communications during her tenure as secretary of state], media have been finding other [irregularities]. I was disappointed in her."

She was echoed by Yang Xingsong, a 40-year-old engineer based in New Jersey. Yang said he voted for Trump while his wife, a Clinton supporter in the past, abstained after the email scandal.

The clinching factor

Though there were members of the community, like Yvonne Wang, a 24-year-old teacher in New York City, who said they voted for Clinton, believing her stance on many issues could make a difference, one major issue for Asian-American voters was the economy. Given the sizeable contribution Chinese-American immigrants have made to building up the economy, they are going to stand by it, no matter who wins.

"At the end of the election day, people do realize that whoever won, the show must go on," Huang said.

Calling the Trump phenomenon something that minorities and immigrants need to pay attention to, Huang voiced a call for harmony: "Let's strive to live peacefully and treat each other respectfully. Our society needs harmony, not discord."

She said the immigration phenomenon is also part of the country: "The early settlers that came to the United States were immigrants too. Without them, America would not be what it is now. America was and still is a land of opportunity. Its success largely comes from the contributions from a melting pot. We should continue to embrace immigrants, appreciate their contributions, and not close doors to them."

(Corrie Dosh and Pan Jianing also contributed to this report. The views expressed by Tai-Yin Huang are her personal views and do not represent those of any organization she was/is affiliated with)

Copyedited by Bryan Michael Galvan

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