On August 6, WeChat, the app which helped Trump win Arizona, came under attack — by Trump himself. The president caused panic among Chinese Americans by issuing an executive order which would prohibit any person subject to U.S. jurisdiction from engaging in any transaction involving WeChat with Tencent Holdings Ltd., the app’s mother company. Ironically, Chinese Americans who support Trump often use it to organize rallies and canvass.
Elsewhere, WeChat functioned as the go-to platform for conservative political campaigns during the 2016 election. David Tian Wang, with just over 700 followers on Twitter, calls himself an activist and grassroots volunteer. But his real field is WeChat. In June 2015, Wang started a three-person WeChat group, “Duck Mouth Fan Club” (鸭嘴粉丝团 yā zuǐ fěnsī tuán), originally aimed at poking fun of Trump. But he renamed the group “Chinese Americans for Trump group,” i.e., CAFT (华裔北美川普助选团 huáyì běiměi chuān pǔ zhù xuǎn tuán), after it began attracting serious Trump supporters. In less than a year, CAFT has ballooned into a network with more than 7,000 members in over 30 states, and has made headlines after launching aerial advertising nationwide and taking part in the Republican National Convention.
At first glance, Chinese Americans are unlikely supporters of Trump. Only 10% of Chinese Americans were enrolled in the Republican party in 2016, according to a poll by Asian American Legal Defense Education Fund, a nonprofit organization. But this belies the conservative undercurrent among first-generation Chinese Americans who, though in the minority, believe that Trump would act in their interest. Political scientists often ascribe Trump’s victory to long-silenced rust belt workers. But disaffected Chinese Americans and their allies, mobilized by WeChat, might well have played a pivotal part.
Two issues in particular stoked conservative WeChat movements. The first is illegal immigration. Many Chinese are naturalized as immigrant workers who either demonstrated “extraordinary ability in the sciences, arts, education, business or athletics” or invested at least $1 million to create 10 full-time positions. Naturalization sometimes takes more than 10 years. Consequently, they are shocked by Democrats granting citizenship to illegal immigrants, a move they see as rewarding the fortunate as opposed to immigrants who paid their dues. “[Unauthorized immigrants] should have taken the right path, taking the legal path,” Wang told Newsy, a digital newspaper. “Now if they do that, I celebrate them. They are diversity, and I celebrate diversity.”