Chinese-American worker and activist arrested for advocating for peace between US and China

Li Tang “Henry” Liang, a hotel worker active in his Boston local union, was suspended from his job after being indicted on federal charges

June 22, 2023 by Natalia Marques
Boston activists advocate for peaceful relations between the US and China (Photo: Pivot to Peace)

Labor leaders and organizers are banding together to demand justice for Chinese-American unionized worker and activist Li Tang “Henry” Liang. Liang was indicted and then arrested in early May in Boston in retaliation for exercising his free speech rights. “The federal government has targeted Liang for advocating peaceful relations between the US and China,” say labor activists in the Asian Pacific American Labor Alliance of the AFL-CIO, the largest trade union in the US.

As a hotel worker, Liang was an active member in his union, UNITE HERE Local 26. He is also an activist in the Chinese-American community, rallying against the US’s propaganda war against China. He previously served on the board of directors for Chinatown Main Street, an organization promoting Chinese-American small businesses in Boston’s Chinatown, and the Chinese Consolidated Benevolent Association of New England, which “serves as the umbrella organization for the Chinese communities of New England” according to its website

“Li Tang has been a participant in important fights for workers rights, including going on strike with his co-workers for 46 days in 2018,” Mike Kramer, Executive Vice President of Local 26, told Peoples Dispatch. “Despite working long hours as a hotel worker, he has dedicated his free time to being active in his community and to the service of others. The charges being brought against this man are a shameful, racist attack.”

“Following his indictment, his employer placed him on indefinite suspension, unfairly depriving his family of income and assuming his guilt without due process,” reads APALA’s petition. “Someone undergoing trial should not be presumed guilty and should have the right to due process and the right to livelihood.”

Liang has advocated for China’s reunification with regions such as Taiwan and peace between the US and China. He was indicted by a federal grand jury for “conspiracy to act as an agent of a foreign government without prior notification” and “acting as an agent of a foreign government without notice to the attorney general.”

“Having a political view doesn’t make you an agent of a foreign government,” said Amrita Dani, unionized teacher in Boston and APALA member.

Liang’s charges come in the context of the United States’ New Cold War against China. “Liang is facing charges under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA),” states APALA. “In recent years, the US Department of Justice (DoJ) has used FARA to intimidate peace activists, journalists, and others for voicing opposition towards hawkish US foreign policy.” 

With the rise of challenges to US hegemony by China and Russia, the United States has grown increasingly paranoid and has lashed out in various ways against these two countries. One way is the billions of dollars in funding funneled to the Russia–Ukraine war, or with the military drills in Chinese waters along with US bases strategically surrounding China. Part of the ongoing effort to rally mass support for the New Cold War is the persecution and repression of free speech in the Chinese-American community.

Waves of Chinese-Americans and Chinese nationals including students, academics, researchers, and activists have been targeted for repression by the FBI due to the US’s orientation against China. In 2020, Trump signed an executive order to expel thousands of Chinese university students purportedly for having ties to the People’s Liberation Army, although many of these students had ties to civilian universities who merely provided scholarships through the PLA. The US is still to this day denying visas based on this proclamation.

“[The US is] fighting tooth-and-nail to prevent, not countries that want to make war with them, but countries who want to develop their economies, to protect their people and sovereignty, and to have a multilateral world, not a unipolar world,” said Marxist militant Ronnie Kasrils, former Minister of Intelligence of South Africa, during a recent webinar. “The Yankees are panic-stricken… for the way their control [over these nations] are breaking down.”

APALA is calling for Liang to be reinstated at his job, for the Department of Justice to stop racially profiling and restricting freedom of speech, and for the DOJ to drop all charges against Liang.