One of presidential candidate Joe Biden’s latest advertisements came under fire on Twitter this weekend, with many calling it racist and xenophobic for its rhetoric surrounding China and the novel coronavirus. The ad explicitly targets President Trump’s response to the coronavirus, criticizing President Trump for being too soft and trusting of the Chinese government during the early stages of the pandemic.
It positions Biden as his hypothetical foreign policy foil, showing a clip of Biden saying, “I would be on the phone with China making it clear: We are going to need to be in your country. You have to be open. You have to be clear. We have to know what’s going on.”
—Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) April 18, 2020
The Atlantic’s Peter Beinart called those comments a “jingoistic fantasy,” writing that “in suggesting that Biden could bludgeon China into submission — in a phone call, no less — the Biden campaign is peddling a lie about how public-health cooperation with China actually works.” The advertisement itself appears to be a response to Trump’s recent anti-Biden ads, which accuse the Vice President of being soft on China.
At the same time, the ad’s rhetoric casts China’s government — and its people — as untrustworthy, linking the American crisis to Trump putting trust in Chinese government officials. The advertisement states that the President “rolled over for the Chinese” — as opposed to “Chinese President Xi Jinping” or “the Chinese government” — failing to differentiate between the government and its people in what some are calling an unfair generalization.
The advertisement has garnered praise from some for being hard on Trump: Jon Cooper, former chair of The Democratic Coalition (an anti-Trump super-PAC), wrote on Twitter, “Damn, this ad by Joe Biden is brutally effective. Trump can run, but he can’t hide.” Political commentator Edward Hardy tweeted, “Joe Biden has unveiled another devastating attack ad.” Singer Ricky Davila said on Twitter, “Holy sh-t, Joe Biden’s newest ad slaps an orange criminal’s weak pathetic ego in the face.”
However, just as pervasive (if not more so) than the praise were criticisms of the ad’s rhetoric, with many criticizing the way in which it portrays China, its people, and its government.
—wilfred chan (@wilfredchan) April 19, 2020—Dr. Victoria Dooley (@DrDooleyMD) April 19, 2020—Wendy Y. Li (@wendyliy) April 19, 2020
Others expressed frustration at the Biden campaign’s apparent lack of willingness to reach out to progressive voters, particularly given the messaging of the ad.
—Existential Comics (@existentialcoms) April 20, 2020—cabral (@axcomrade) April 19, 2020
Biden has condemned some of the anti-Chinese rhetoric that President Trump has espoused in the past, tweeting on Feb. 1 that, “we need to lead the way with science — not Donald Trump’s record of hysteria, xenophobia, and fear-mongering.”
—Joe Biden (@JoeBiden) February 1, 2020
That being said, many found the new advertisement merely parroting the anti-China rhetoric that Republicans have peddled in an effort to distract from Trump’s disastrous coronavirus response. While Biden has spoken out against Trump’s xenophobia, for many, the advertisement supersedes any previous comments: Asian Americans have faced racist attacks and sentiment as a result of the pandemic, and an ad that espouses rhetoric tying “the Chinese” to it could stand to exacerbate harassment.
“Wow @JoeBiden,” Cecillia Wang, deputy legal director of the National ACLU, said on Twitter. “Already trying to out-Trump Trump. This kind of fearmongering is causing violent attacks on Asian Americans.”
Business Insider has reached out to the Biden campaign and will update with any comment.