WASHINGTON – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today delivered keynote remarks at the Center for Strategic and International Studies event: "Countering AAPI Discrimination and its Intersections with U.S. Foreign Policy." Ambassador Tai's remarks, which build on her speech earlier this month at the University of Southern California, detail how the Biden-Harris Administration is partnering with and celebrating the rich heritage of AA and NHPI communities.
Ambassador Tai's remarks will be live streamed on the CSIS website.
Ambassador Tai's remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Thank you, Victor. It’s a pleasure to be back at CSIS to talk about a very important topic, and I look forward to our discussion in a bit.
It’s still May, and I’ve had the honor of speaking with community leaders all over the country as we celebrate Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.
I was in Phoenix a couple of weeks ago and joined a roundtable event with local AA and NHPI leaders.
One of the women I met was Dorothy Lew. She is the Executive Director of the Pan Asian Community Alliance, which is a non-profit that promotes education and community services for AA and NHPIs throughout Pima County.
Dorothy’s team devotes thousands of hours every year to help people with immigration issues, provide interpretation and translation services, and help with income tax filings.
She and the other leaders around the table unequivocally spoke of a need—to be visible, together. That it wasn’t good enough to have a few superstars representing our communities. That it was pivotal for all of us to be seen, heard, and respected—together.
That is because we are a community of communities. We are strong because of our differences, not in spite of them.
But despite this communal strength, progress is not linear, and our communities still face real struggles.
During the pandemic, we saw how reckless rhetoric enabled senseless violence against our communities.
Of course, none of this is new.
Whether it’s the Los Angeles massacre of 1871, or the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, or the persecution of Muslim Americans after 9/11, we have painful scars of hate and bigotry.
But we also know that we will not be defined by these scars. That’s the genius of our great democratic experiment—that our Union was designed to be perfected over time.
We are living through a pivotal moment in our history where this perfecting is more important than ever, as tensions between the United States and the People’s Republic of China remain high.
This is a consequential and complex relationship.
We are the two largest economies in the world, so how we relate to each other not only affects the two of us, but the entire world.
We need to acknowledge that there are real challenges in this relationship.
The PRC’s growth and development over the last few decades have been phenomenal, but the impacts—especially the negative impacts on other economies, including ours—are having consequences that we cannot ignore.
But to appropriately respond to the challenge that we are facing, we need to be disciplined in clearly defining what the challenge is and what it is not.
The problem isn’t “Chinese-ness” or “Asian-ness.” Our concerns are with the Chinese government’s policies and practices—and not with the Chinese people or with people of Chinese descent or heritage.
The more we can focus on the substance and filter out the noise, the easier it will be to define the problem. Once you clearly define it, only then can you formulate solutions that are tailored to it.
And our Administration has been doing exactly that, by investing in America, in our working families and communities, to allow our economy to heal and grow.
That’s what President Biden has been focused on—rebuilding our roads and bridges, expanding our domestic manufacturing capabilities, and ensuring that we can compete and collaborate from a position of strength.
We can fiercely defend what is ours and also fiercely embrace our different roots and upbringings. We can and must do both, because we know too well what happens when we fail to do this the right way.
This summer marks the 41st anniversary of Vincent Chin’s brutal murder in Detroit.
Vincent—a Chinese American—was murdered by two white men upset about the competition U.S. companies faced from Japanese automakers. Vincent was beaten to death with a baseball bat.
You may also remember the story of Dr. Wen Ho Lee.
In 1999, Dr. Lee—an American scientist who emigrated from Taiwan and was working at a Los Alamos nuclear laboratory at the time—was arrested and accused of providing nuclear secrets to the PRC.
Prosecutors were never able to link him to economic espionage, but he was still incarcerated in solitary confinement for nine months, without bail.
When he was finally released, the U.S. District Judge in charge of the case actually apologized to Dr. Lee publicly for the wrongs committed to him by his own government.
Geopolitical tensions are not going away, so it is up to us to decide how we choose to respond.
Norm Mineta embodied what it looks like to respond to hate with honor. This month marks the one-year anniversary of his passing, and I find myself thinking about him often these days.
Born in California, Norm was the son of Japanese immigrants. During World War II, his family was incarcerated in a camp in Wyoming. Everything that his parents had built since coming to America was now broken and taken from them.
Norm—and so many Japanese Americans of that era—were treated as a threat to the very community that they called home.
But despite these hardships, Norm loved his country and spent his life giving back through public service.
He rose from the San Jose City Council to the mayor’s office to the halls of the United States House of Representatives. He served for two decades and co-founded the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus.
He was the first Asian American to serve in the Cabinet, and was also the first chair of what became White House Initiative on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.
Norm was the first for many things, but he didn’t settle for just being the first—he dedicated his life to pursuing justice and did everything he could to ensure that our communities took steps forward, together.
He was adamant that our Constitution must protect all of us, and he knew that what makes America great is our ability to admit and correct our wrongs.
He refused to stay bitter or angry, and instead used his experience to better the American experience for the rest of us and for other marginalized communities and people with disabilities.
Norm’s example is one we all need to keep in mind today.
One of the first things President Biden did after taking office was to reinstate and reinvigorate the White House Initiative and President’s Commission on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, which I am proud to co-chair.
In January, the White House also released the first-ever National Strategy on Advancing Equity, Justice, and Opportunity for AA and NHPI communities, which lays out a whole-of-government approach to address our communities’ needs.
We also know that there is a systemic lack of disaggregated data on AA and NHPI communities, and that language access has been a longstanding barrier for many in our communities. So, WHIAANHPI and the Equitable Data Subcommittee are working to correct this.
On trade specifically, my agency is working to better understand the distributional effects that trade has had on different communities across the country, including on AA and NHPI workers. That’s an important step to use trade as a force for good.
We are expanding language access services and empowering AA and NHPI workers, businesses, and entrepreneurs. We are meeting people where they are and demonstrating how government can be a force for good in their lives.
I’ll give you a good example.
WHIAANHPI started a series of summits where we are literally connecting AA and NHPI businesses with federal resources and with each other. These summits are happening all across the country—Chicago, New York, Las Vegas—and I had the pleasure to join the first one, in Philadelphia.
There, I met small businesses owners and heard about their hardships during the pandemic. I met entrepreneurs trying to turn their ideas into reality. I also met workers and community organizers fighting against poverty, bullying, and discrimination.
These summits are a part of our Administration’s resolve to deliver real results for our AA and NHPI communities and businesses—by investing in our ourselves and by fostering collaboration.
People often ask me what we can do to fight against the bigotry and violence against AA and NHPIs. There is no simple cure, but to borrow from Secretary Mineta, I think the answer is to get involved, together—because engagement is power, but engagement together changes history.
Rally others to participate in the democratic process. Vote together, not just for president but for school board and city council. Jump into politics at all levels to serve our nation and our people.
That is because we are stronger, together. When we push and pull for one another. When we are visible together.
Our communities have been an integral part of our nation’s social fabric for generations.
We laid the foundations of our roads and railways. We built our schools, tilled the soil, cared for the sick, and reared our cattle.
And we continue to carry that legacy forward today.
We are teachers, firefighters, and scientists. We are artists, entrepreneurs, and steelworkers. We are farmers, chefs, and engineers.
To our communities, I want to say that we are all adding our pieces to a greater masterpiece—just like our parents and their parents—that is the American story. Bask in our rich heritage, let it shine, and then let’s take it further.
Our Administration has your back. We are taking unprecedented steps to help everyone write their next chapter in this story, so partner with us.
Let’s continue to act, to fight against injustice, to empower our people, and to build a better future for those coming after us.