It is common for governments to issue travel warnings to their citizens. Australia does it frequently. Australia’s travel warnings to its citizens have sometimes annoyed other countries such as Indonesia and Jordan, to name a few. So, it should come as no surprise that China has issued travel warnings to its citizens over concerns about a surge in racist attacks against Chinese and Asians in Australia.
Scott Morrison is now pointing the finger at China for the breakdown in Australia-China relations saying, “Australia has done nothing to injure” the nation’s partnership with China.[i] But is this true? During the COVID 19 pandemic, he gave speeches using highly inflammable language to accuse China of being responsible for COVID-19. He demanded the World Health Organization be given Weapon Inspector Powers to investigate China over COVID-19.[ii] Such powers could have opened the door for Western intelligence agencies to infiltrate the WHO for espionage purposes, as occurred when American intelligence agencies infiltrated UNSCOM, the UN Special Commission given Weapon Inspector Powers to go into Iraq in 2003, to carry out espionage against the Iraq military without the knowledge of the UN.[iii] Morrison has since distanced himself from demanding Weapon Inspector Powers for China, and when recently asked about it, he ignored the subject, but it is futile to deny it played a role in damaging the Australia-China relationship.
When China issued warnings advising its citizens to avoid travelling to Australia due to the recent surge in anti-Asian racist attacks in this country, Australian government ministers went on the offensive labelling China’s warnings as ‘rubbish,” “disinformation,” and “exaggerated,” claiming there was no evidence of a surge in anti-Asian racism in Australia. This was a mistake. A more measured response would have made a considerable difference to improving the relationship. It is obvious to everyone that a surge in racist attacks against Chinese and Asians did take place since the start of the pandemic. Over 400 anti-China racist attacks in Australia have been reported to Australian police, anti-discrimination groups, and online surveys since the pandemic began in January 2020, though the figure is very likely much higher as many attacks were not reported.
To give a flavour of these attacks, here are a few examples.
- Chinese business owners were repeatedly targeted in racist attacks, very often finding racist slogans outside their shops and restaurants, or their properties vandalised.
- A man cracked a whip and yelled racist abuse outside the Chinese Consulate in Sydney, and threatened to shoot the Chinese general-secretary. He shouted China had deliberately spread the virus and many of his remarks bore remarkable similarities to speeches made by some Australian government ministers.
- In February, a Malaysian student was evicted from her Perth home due to her landlord’s fears about the coronavirus outbreak.
- Right wing extremists hoisted Chinese and Nazi Swastika flags together on prominent sites – one in a rural town in Victoria; the other involving two Chinese flags and a Nazi flag planted above a Telstra phone tower in Kyabram, norther of Melbourne on 14 April. Scrawled across the Chinese flags was the hashtag #COVID-29.
- Melbourne City councillor Philip Le Liu was abused while carrying a box of face masks into the Melbourne Town Hall. “A lady told him, “Who did you steal those off?” Followed by, “That’d be right, stealing and sending it back to China.”
- A Hong Kong student in Hobart was punched in the face for wearing a medical face mask.
- A South Korean backpacker was assaulted by a Bundaberg teenager who accused her of bringing the coronavirus to Australia.
- A Chinese woman in Sydney, speaking to Today hosts Karl Stefanovic and Ally Langdon revealed she had suffered racial abuse on the streets of Sydney on three separate occasions, and in one terrifying encounter, she was walking on a street in Crows Nest, when a man in his 50s spat on her and shouted “You f***ing Chinese, take your coronavirus back home.” [iv]
- An Asian was abused when an elderly woman shouted to him that “Chinese people are f***ing filthy animals who eat bats.”[v]
- In Queensland, fake racist coronavirus warnings were circulated warning people against visiting Brisbane areas with high Chinese populations.
- A Chinese woman wearing a mask as a precaution at a shopping mall had three teenagers tell her, “See you! Go and catch the coronavirus.”
- In April, two female international students were viciously assaulted near the Victoria Market in Melbourne in which two Australian females physically assaulted them and screamed for them to get out of the country.
- In April, a Chinese-Australian family’s Melbourne home was vandalised three times in one week with racist graffiti.
- A Melbourne teashop manager filmed a stranger hurling racially charged taunts against her.
- On 1 June, Anti-Discrimination NSW released data pointing to a rise in anti-Asian racism, comprising over 241 official complaints in the 4 months between 1 January and 30 April 2020. This included Asians being spat at in public, harassed for wearing a face mask, or car windows being smashed.[vi] These statistics also do not include other complaints referred to the New South Wales police which were more serious.
- According to Australia’s Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan, there have been troubling reports “pointing to an increase in racism, both locally and internationally, as a result of COVID-19”.
We could go on for many pages. But clearly, there was a surge of anti-Asian racist attacks in Australia since the start of the pandemic. 400 attacks is by no means a small number and it is futile to deny it and label it “disinformation.”
It is appropriate for the Chinese government to alert its citizens about racist attacks against them, just as we would expect the Australian government to do if over 400 racist attacks had been committed against Australians visiting China.
But there are good signs the dispute can be repaired. In the last few days, a trickle of sanity has returned to the dispute initiated by the Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham when he did acknowledge racism in Australia but condemned it and asserted Australia is a safe country for visitors and students. Speaking to the ABC he said,
“I do acknowledge that there are instances of racism and thoroughly inappropriate behaviour [in Australia], which I condemn. In our country, racism is not tolerated. We encourage people to call it out and we condemn it. We encourage people to report it. Where it involves any type of violence, we expect it to be investigated and prosecutions to occur. There is no validity at all to a suggestion that Australia is an unsafe destination for visitors or students to come to.”[vii]
Birmingham is correct on each of these points. It was a good statement. But he doesn’t need Sky news or the Murdoch media to help him. As many ordinary Chinese will readily admit, one of the reasons why Chinese students and tourists are attracted to Australia is that it is a safe country, far more so than the US.
While this was a positive development, the good ground that was gained was lost the next day when Scott Morrison went on the war path once again to accuse China of having an Africans racism problem, blasting Beijing by saying. “It’s not us, it’s you.” While racism against Africans does occur in China, it is hypocritical for Morrison to ride a white horse into China to defend Africans against racism, trying to claim the moral high ground by insulating racism only exists in China. Birmingham took us two steps forward while Morrison took a step back.
It does no good for Australia to call out China’s politicisation of racism in Australia. It is clear both Australia and China have politicalised the dispute. Even so, China should take up Birmingham’s offer to talk through the dispute and resolve it quickly. Australia is still a safe country and most Chinese know it to be so. This unfortunate episode needs to be put behind us so that people can travel to Australia for tourism and to study and to experience the food and way of life in this country. Australia is a safer place than the US, and China knows it.
Bond, Nick. Woman spat on, abused in Aussie street. The Chronicle, 23 April 2020. https://www.dailymercury.com.au/news/woman-spat-on-abused-in-sydney-streets/4000947/
Gellman, Barton. U.S. Spied on Iraq Via U.N. Washington Post, 2 March 1999; Page A1. https://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/inatl/daily/march99/unscom2.htm
Glasgow, Bill. Africans ostracised: China has its own racism problem. The Australian, 13-14 June 2020, p. 1.
Handley, and Joanna McCarthy. The Government has dismissed China’s warning to its citizens about racism in Australia. Let’s take a look at the evidence. ABC News, 12 June 2020. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2020-06-11/china-warns-students-racism-australia-evidence-covid19/12340208
Hurst, Daniel and Paul Karp. Labour MP calls for united response to racism following attacks on Chinese. The Guardian, 10 June 2020. https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2020/jun/11/labor-mp-calls-for-united-response-to-racism-following-attacks-on-chinese-australians
Packham, Ben. This isn’t our doing, PM tells Beijing. The Australian, 13-14 June 2020, p. 2.
Schneiders, Ben and Clay Lucas. Asian-Australian groups report surge in racist abuse, assaults during pandemic. The Age, 13 May 2020. https://www.theage.com.au/politics/victoria/asian-australian-groups-report-surge-in-racist-abuse-assaults-during-pandemic-20200512-p54s6f.html
Tillett, Andrew and Phillip Coorey. PM wants weapons inspector-like powers for WHO. Australian Financial Review. 22 April 2020. https://www.afr.com/politics/federal/pm-wants-weapons-inspector-like-powers-for-world-health-organisation-20200422-p54m5x
[i] Glasgow, 2020.
[ii] Tillett and Coorey, 2020.
[iii] Gellman, 1919.
[iv] Bond, 2020.
[v] Schneiders and Lucas, 2020.
[vi] Zhou, 2020
[vii] Handley and McCarthy, 2020.