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Southeast Asia, explained

China-themed attack ad: filmed in California with American actress

Ad depicts Chinese woman, speaking broken English, gleeful over America's debt
Hoekstra china ad actress 2012 02 08Enlarge
The actress in U.S. Senate hopeful Pete Hoekstra's controversial ad: an Asian-American depicting a Chinese woman pleased with America's debt to China. (Screengrab)

This token Asian sights and sounds in this campaign ad by U.S. Senate hopeful Pete Hoekstra -- broken English, rice fields, gongs -- have riled the American punditry.

The ad depicts an Asian woman using choppy English to gloat over America's debt to her country.

"You borrow more and more from us. Your economy get very weak. Ours get very good. We take your jobs." 

It's an attack on Hoekstra's opponent's spending record. The strong implication, of course, is that the setting is China.

Depending on who you ask, the ad is either "racist" and as bad as a depiction of blacks speaking "slave dialect" or the "best ad of the political season."

As Fox News anchor Megyn Kelly sums it up, the ad is "using an Asian actress to make the point that China is leaving America in the dust." Her guest Lou Dobbs, who loved the ad, says it draws attention to American flaws. "How many Americans could you find speaking broken Mandarin?" he asks.

Not all that many.

But it's also not hard to find an American actress speaking English in California.

A few facts about the ad and the actress:

1. She's American. According to Hoekstra, her parents are "100 percent Chinese." This is obvious to anyone exposed to broken English in Asia: despite her intentionally choppy sentence structure, her accent is pitch-perfect American in a way most highly educated, native-born Asians studying English would be thrilled to pull off.

2. "The ad was filmed in California," Hoekstra campaign staffer Paul Ciaramitaro told me by e-mail. I asked because the ad nailed the setting and convincingly portrayed an Asian rice paddy. (Hoekstra, of course, would be insane to film it in Asia, thereby pouring money into an Asian economy and undermining his entire argument.)

3. It was produced by Strategic Perception Inc., which has a strong track record of producing campaign ads that can excite the U.S. media and compel journalists like me to write posts like the one you're reading now. One of their campaign attack ads depicts its target as a demonic sheep with glowing red eyes.

What about the contention that China is leaving America "in the dust"?

The consequences of America's debt to China are real. Informed debate surrounding that debt is vital.

But for anyone afraid that U.S.-style prosperity will totally shift to China at America's expense, I offer this passage from the excellent book "China Shakes the World" by journalist James Kynge:

"In spite of the resemblance China bears to America in an earlier stage of its development, the chances that the Chinese will one day be able to consume at the same rate as Americans do today are close to zero. It is not that they will choose to be more frugal. It is simply that the world does not have the resources to cater for 1.3 billion Chinese behaving like Americans."

Here's the ad.

http://www.globalpost.com/globalpost-blogs/southeast-asia/hoekstra_ad_chinese_actress