For One Adoptee, Xi-Biden Meeting at APEC is ‘Personal’

For one young adoptee, this week’s APEC conference offers the chance to call attention to the ongoing suspension of international adoptions between the US and China.

Image: US President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping are expected to meet on the sidelines of this week’s APEC conference in San Francisco. (Image via Rawpixel)

For months, I’ve anticipated leaders from around the world – and specifically my own birthplace, China – converging on San Francisco for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. For me, there is a very personal side to this gathering, one that reveals the human stories behind international relations.

I was adopted and brought to the United States at the age of 11 months, a few years after international adoptions had reached their peak in 2004. They have since plummeted.

From 1999 to 2016, over 72,000 Chinese children found their way into the hearts and homes of US parents. Even my own adoption must have appeared relatively straightforward compared to my younger sister who was adopted just a few years later, when it became significantly more difficult to meet eligibility requirements.

Today, the situation is even worse, and the reality is that the door to international adoptions, especially from China, remains shut.

According to the US State Department, intercountry adoptions between the People’s Republic of China and the United States remain in a state of suspension. Against the backdrop of heightened tensions between these two global superpowers, I’m concerned that children, like me, may face even greater challenges finding loving and supportive families in the future or never find them at all.

That’s why from a young age, I’ve been involved in volunteer work with children awaiting adoption as a way of expressing gratitude for the care I received before embarking on my journey to my “forever” family. Through this experience, I’ve had the privilege of witnessing the potential within these children, reminding me of the hidden strength I once discovered within myself.

Like all things, the history of international adoptions is complex. But with an anticipated meeting between US President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping during the APEC summit, the question of international adoptions is an avenue for dialogue where the two countries might find some common ground.

The love for children and their families is universal, transcending borders and geopolitical boundaries. For me, personally, being an adoptee has instilled in me a drive to make the most of every moment, pushing me to learn, grow, seize opportunities, and take pride in my dual Chinese and American background.

My hope is that the global leaders convening at APEC will find ways to break down borders and assist orphans in finding loving families. I’m fortunate to have been given the opportunity to attend the summit as a volunteer with the Asia Society Northern California.

Attending the conference holds significance for me as it provides an opportunity to deepen my understanding of US-China relations and have my voice heard by lawmakers and officials from both nations.

But I also want to get out the message that behind all of the policy, ultimately, there’s a real human side as adoptees, like me, hang in the balance of it all. In sharing my story and advocating for adoptees, I hope to inspire collective action and support for initiatives that ensure every child, regardless of borders, finds the loving “forever” family they deserve.

Justin Ma is a high school junior. He will be attending this year’s APEC conference in San Francisco as a volunteer with the Asia Society Northern California.