Singapore (diplomat.so) - A hearing in the United States Congress took an unexpected turn when Senator Tom Cotton, R-Ark., faced backlash for his questioning of TikTok CEO Shou Chew regarding his nationality and alleged affiliations. The incident has sparked complaints from Singaporeans, who see the senator's inquiries as ignorant or even racist.
The hearing, which focused on online harm to children from social media, saw Chew and executives from other tech firms like Meta, X, and Snap testifying before lawmakers. Cotton repeatedly questioned Chew about his nationality and possible ties to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), given that TikTok is operated by the Chinese firm ByteDance.
Chew, who affirmed his Singaporean citizenship during the hearing, faced persistent queries from Cotton regarding any affiliation with the CCP or Chinese citizenship. Chew's responses indicating his sole Singaporean citizenship did not deter Cotton, leading to criticism of the senator's approach.
The exchange, likened to McCarthyism by The Washington Post, gained significant attention on social media platforms. Clips of the questioning drew tens of thousands of views, with many criticizing Cotton's line of inquiry.
Singaporeans, particularly, expressed dismay over what they saw as racial stereotyping. With approximately 75% of Singapore's population being ethnically Chinese, many took offense at the assumption that Chew's ethnicity automatically implied ties to China.
Jojo Choo, an assistant marketing manager, initially felt pride seeing a fellow Singaporean in Congress but quickly grew disillusioned with Cotton's questioning, which she deemed ignorant and tinged with racism. Others, like Fian Fazlie, found the senator's line of inquiry baffling and amusing, highlighting what they saw as ignorance on Cotton's part.
In response to the backlash, Cotton defended his questions in an Instagram post, suggesting that Chew had "a lot of explaining to do" regarding his alleged affiliations. Cotton also claimed that Singapore had a high degree of influence from the CCP, although the basis for these claims remains unclear.
Shou Chew, a 41-year-old native of Singapore, lives in the country with his family. Prior to his role at TikTok, Chew had a professional background that included working at Xiaomi, DST Global, and Goldman Sachs.
The incident has sparked discussions about racial stereotypes and the need for cultural sensitivity in international interactions, particularly in high-profile settings like congressional hearings.