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Anti-China bills pile up in Texas Legislature

By MAY ZHOU in Houston | China Daily Global | Updated: 2023-03-24 11:07

Republican lawmakers in Texas continue to propose legislative bills in the name of national security to single out China, Russia, Iran and North Korea and impose more restrictions.

The latest is HB 2206, which would ban all social media platforms in the state developed or provided by companies or any entities from the four countries.

For China, this would mean that popular social media platforms such as WeChat and TikTok would be banned. The bill was proposed by state Representative Jared Patterson.

A man identified as Chang from Dallas, in testifying against HB 2206 on Wednesday evening in the Texas House chamber in Austin, told the House Committee of State Affairs that "our community is overwhelmed by discriminative bills, each targeting in a particular way a certain right".

"The proposed ban is racist. It will disproportionally impact Chinese Americans in this country," Chang said. "It violates the equal rights law of the Constitution, freedom of association." He also said that it violates freedom of religion because many people use WeChat to form Bible-study groups.

"I thought I would show you what WeChat is really like. This is my mom, an image from our video chat," said a woman who identified herself as Ze. She showed the committee her phone's screen.

Ze told the committee that her mother returned to China after coming to US on a visa to take care of her when she was having children. Her mother misses seeing her grandchildren grow up, and video chats through WeChat help her to bridge that yearning.

"Video chat with her every day is the joy of her life. She lives alone. If it weren't for WeChat, she would have suffered from depression. I miss her every day, and she misses us. This is a bridge for emotional connection for so many Chinese-speaking Americans," Ze said.

Ze said she also uses WeChat for school events; information is exchanged instantly, and a volunteer would show up right away when needed.

She told the committee that many Chinese restaurants survived the COVID-19 pandemic on WeChat by having their own network through the app. With 18,000 Chinese restaurants in Texas, even if WeChat brings in only 2 percent, which is probably an underestimate, of the total revenue, it would add a few million dollars to state revenue.

A man, who identified himself as Guo said that as an immigration lawyer, he uses WeChat to communicate with many of his clients. He has a WeChat public account with thousands of followers. If it were banned, he would lose a lot of business.

Moreover, WeChat is widely used to build communities in Texas, Guo said. "We use WeChat to organize people to oppose these discriminative bills, to organize people to testify against SB 147. It helped our community to have our voice heard," he told the committee.

During the hearing, in which about a dozen people testified, some committee members asked questions and appeared to learn for the first time that WeChat is the only available social media platform for many Chinese Americans to communicate with their non-English speaking families and friends in China.

Currently, Texas has 11 bills primarily targeting China, Russia, Iran and North Korea for various restrictions ranging from real property purchase and college admissions to social media and government contracts. Some proposed bills focus on property seizure and would make it a criminal offense for violating them.

The slew of China-related bills has prompted many Chinese Americans to take action to defend their rights. State Representative Gene Wu is at the forefront against them.

He has set up a weekly Zoom meeting every Sunday to update people on the bills in Texas and similar bills in other states such as South Carolina, Georgia and Tennessee.

The Texas bills also have attracted attention from other part of the country. The San Francisco Labor Council passed a unanimous resolution this month condemning them.

The resolution called the bills "racist and xenophobic" and "would be a shameful revival of the darkest, ugliest, and most hateful periods of our past".

Chinese social media isn't only targeted in Texas. In North Carolina, the state Senate unanimously passed a bill Tuesday to ban TikTok, WeChat and Telegram on all state-owned devices and internet networks.

That means that students and state government workers using their personal phones or computers won't be able to access the apps on their workplace or school Wi-Fi.

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