President Donald Trump's re-election campaign released a misleading ad Thursday that attempts to portray former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee, as cozy with China. The ad was promptly criticized by an advocacy group as dangerous for suggesting that a former governor of Washington, who is Asian American, has a dual loyalty to the foreign power.
The ad — which appears to confront the coronavirus pandemic by claiming that "during America's crisis, Biden protected China's feelings" — shows a number of clips of Biden praising General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party Xi Jinping and the Chinese people, as well as denouncing Trump's criticisms of China as xenophobic.
One of the clips includes a photograph at the 39-second mark of Gary Locke, the former governor of Washington who went on to serve as ambassador to China and secretary of Commerce under former President Barack Obama. Tim Murtagh, a spokesman for the Trump campaign, responded to the criticisms Thursday by claiming that the photograph of Locke was appropriate because of where it was captured.
"The shot with the flags specifically places Biden in Beijing in 2013," Murtagh tweeted. "It's for a reason. That's the Hunter Biden trip. Memory Lane for ol' Joe."
But an expert on Asian American issues told Salon that the ad contains a dangerous and offensive "dual loyalty" trope.
"This campaign ad is offensive, because it falsely insinuates that former U.S. Ambassador Gary Locke, standing in front of a Chinese flag, is a representative of the Chinese government," Margaret Fung, executive director of Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund, told Salon by email. "The political ad plays on old stereotypes about Americans of Chinese descent having 'dual loyalties' to China and the U.S. This misrepresentation could promote more hostility towards Asian Americans in the same way that Trump's use of "Chinese virus" has contributed to the sharp rise in anti-Asian violence."
Murtagh's comment refers to one of Trump's frequent criticisms of Biden — namely, the accusation that his son Hunter improperly benefited from business dealings in China and Ukraine while his father was vice president. Hunter Biden stepped down from his board role in the management company of a private equity fund with connections to the Chinese government in October.
But the "dual loyalty" trope is not the only way the ad "obscures and misleads," according to Washington Post senior political reporter Aaron Blake.
"It is a veritable smorgasbord of revisionism. It attacks Biden for saying things about China that are extremely similar to what Trump himself has said," Blake reported. "It also takes Biden's comments about travel bans way out of context to cast him as opposing Trump's coronavirus-related restrictions on China."
Trump has previously used racist rhetoric to discuss the coronavirus pandemic, including labeling the disease as the "Chinese virus."
"The comments made by President Trump intensifies the xenophobia and racism that's become rampant against Asians and Asian Americans globally," Rosalind Chou, a sociology professor at Georgia State University, told Salon last month. "He's fueling fears against Chinese, specifically. However, people of Asian ancestry across the globe may face collateral damage. These statements are dangerous and erroneously assign blame to people who are as susceptible to the disease as anyone else worldwide."
Fung also told Salon by email at the time that "calling COVID-19 a 'Chinese virus' leads to mistaken beliefs that Asian people are more likely to be infected by the coronavirus and should be avoided or quarantined. The virus is not linked to race or ethnicity, but the pandemic has led to a sharp rise in racism and hate violence against Asians and Asian Americans. As we noted in our tweet last night, Trump and other elected officials should be speaking out against the racist and xenophobic attacks that perpetuate dangerous stereotypes about our community."
Watch the full Trump campaign ad below via YouTube: