Emil Guillermo: The "Five Eyes" for the first time herald a new era of suspicion in the U.S.
If you turned on “60 Minutes” last Sunday expecting a Middle East lead report, you didn’t really get one.
Instead, Asian Americans, especially Chinese Americans, got a wakeup call from the FBI.
The first story barely touched on the crises in the Middle East. It featured FBI director Christopher Wray talking about how the “fluid and volatile environment” there could “spit out in the U.S.” The report referred to violence in the U.S. that had already erupted with a six-year-old Palestinian American boy stabbed to death in Illinois.
But then came the hard pivot to the real political fear obsessing Wray and the FBI: China.
That’s been on Wray’s radar for some time, especially during the Trump administration when the FBI had an overzealousness with the potential to impact innocent people, specifically scientists, academics, and lab researchers.
But this time Wray was with his buds from the so-called “Five Eyes,” a group made up of the intelligence heads from the U.S., Australia, Canada, the UK, and New Zealand.
Formed after World War II, the group has never made a public appearance together until recently in California’s Silicon Valley to drive home the point: The technology in AI, biology, and computing is being stolen in an espionage campaign by China.
And now Wray and the Five Eyes were on the top TV news show on CBS, the sixth eye?
“There is no country that presents a broader, more comprehensive threat to our ideas, our innovation, our economic security and ultimately our national security,” Wray told “60 Minutes.” “We have seen efforts by the Chinese government directly or indirectly trying to steal intellectual property, trade secrets, personal data–all across the country.”
Wray talked about more than 2,000 active cases and said what China was doing was a threat to “our way of life.”
And then he went further. “We welcome business with China, visitors from China and academic exchange,” Wray said. “What we don’t welcome is cheating, and theft and repression.”
The repression is of American citizens like Yan Xiong, a Chinese American who served in the military, protested in Tiananmen Square, and recently ran for Congress in New York.
Xiong had been so critical of the Chinese government that it hired a private investigator to dig up dirt on him, or even make up something so he’d lose the election. And if that failed, court documents cited a voicemail that sanctioned the use of violence.
“We have seen over and over again efforts to really stop at almost nothing to intimidate people who would have the audacity here in the United States, where we have freedom of speech, to express criticism of the regime,” Wray said.
The upshot of the report was that China was “running a criminal enterprise.” Wray said if China wanted to be a great nation, “it should act like one,” and not work with criminals but work “to uphold the rule of law.”
This is not the first time Wray has sounded an alarm. But this time he’s focused more on China as the bad guy. It’s more like traditional China-bashing.
That's an improvement?
During the Trump administration, Wray’s public approach always seemed to end up with Chinese Americans being viewed with suspicion. Now we’re the victims of China, and Wray wants those among us who work with cutting edge technologies in business to be the FBI’s eyes and ears. If you see something, be a patriot and say something.
But there have been cases in the past where that approach has backfired, leaving innocent Chinese Americans wrongly accused of espionage. Wen Ho Lee is the classic case. And there are many others.
How will Asian Americans be treated this time? Will it really be any different?
Clearly, the fear is being stoked when Wray sounds the alarm while parading with the Five Eyes.
With China courting Russia hard last week, the emerging geopolitical order can easily find us in a new heightened era of suspicion. It leaves us potentially stuck between China's long arm of repression, or the homemade American version, a mix of repression and xenophobia.
And you thought it was treacherous in the Middle East?
That “60 Minutes” piece played like a warning to all Asian Americans.
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NOTE: I will talk about this column and other matters on “Emil Amok’s Takeout,” my AAPI micro-talk show. Live @2p Pacific. Livestream on Facebook; my YouTube channel; and Twitter. Catch the recordings on www.amok.com.