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Sen. Tom Cotton is being criticized for questioning TikTok CEO Shou Zi Chew at length on Chew’s citizenship and whether he had a relationship with the Chinese Communist Party during a heated hearing on Wednesday.
Cotton, R-Ark., pressed Chew as he testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on child safety online, alongside the CEOs of Meta, X, Discord and Snap as lawmakers wrestle with increasing pressures to regulate social media.
“Have you ever been a member of the Chinese Communist Party?” Cotton asked.
Chew replied, “Senator, I’m Singaporean.”
Cotton then asked, “Have you ever been associated or affiliated with the Chinese Communist Party?”
Chew, who lives in Singapore with his wife and children, who are American, responded, “No, Senator. Again, I’m Singaporean!”
People of Chinese descent make up more than 75 percent of Singapore’s population.
The widely shared exchange also saw Cotton asking Chew questions about the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 and his perspective on it. “You said earlier, in response to a question, that what happened at Tiananmen Square in June of 1989 was a ‘massive protest.’ Did anything else happen at Tiananmen Square?” Cotton asked.
Chew said, “Yes, I think it’s well documented. There was a massacre.”
Social media users were quick to react to the exchange.
“This is absolutely phenomenal in its revelation of how racist our government is, not just because the question itself is Sinophobic, but also because it’s clear that Tom Cotton can’t tell Asians apart even when they tell him,” journalist and digital media consultant Heidi Moore tweeted.
“This line of questioning from Senator Tom Cotton is disgraceful, blatantly racist, and deeply racist,” tweeted AAPI Victory Fund, a political action committee that supports Asian American candidates.
Cotton defended his comments after the hearing on Fox News, telling the outlet, “It’s entirely reasonable to pursue a line of questioning about whether he himself, like his company, is subject to the influence of the Chinese Communist Party.”
His office did not return requests for comment.
The CEOs were pressed on their companies’ positions on pieces of legislation that aim to tackle issues ranging from teen content moderation to efforts to curb the sale of illicit drugs on various platforms.
One of the most striking moments came when Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg turned to the audience and personally apologized to grieving families who say social media contributed to their children’s death by suicide.
Chew was questioned by senators at a hearing last March that focused on TikTok’s use of data and protections for children on the app.