Illustrations by Hannah Robinson
Over the last few months, the People’s Republic of China has been in the spotlight, and rightfully so. Despite many of us in the West not agreeing with each other, one thing that most of us can agree on is the questionable and at times, barbaric nature of the Chinese state. China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and their omission of the true extent of the virus was the first sign but, by no means the last. China has tried and has successfully taken control of Hong Kong and has mass persecuted the Uyghurs in Xinjiang. For years, we have heard numerous officials warning of this totalitarian state, but only now, has the world woken up.
As a result, the countering of Chinese influence has been relentless. We have witnessed increasing sanctions against China such as the banning of Chinese apps and some international companies even moving their business elsewhere.
I am, however, worried about the refutation of Chinese influence. I am scared that this mounting opposition against China will turn into prejudice.
As a result of the COVID- 19 pandemic, we have seen pernicious examples of anti-Chinese rhetoric or even broader anti-Asian rhetoric.
Video clips of the Asian community being abused were shared, with instances occurring in the United States, the United Kingdom and parts of Africa. Opinion pieces were published about these experiences, showing the enormity of the situation. Businesses in Chinatowns saw a vast reduction in sales: in Manhattan some saw a 70% drop in business. Students who attended universities in the United States posted about avoiding Asian classmates.
On top of these public trends of xenophobia and hate elected political officials, instead of condemning such xenophobic slurs, have further fuelled the the fire.
Donald Trump labelled COVID-19 the “Kung Flu,”.Such slurs are dangerous and can ignite harmful stereotypes of the Chinese American community. Abraham Weintraub, the Education Minister for Brazil’s far-right government, suggested that the virus was part of a “plan for world domination.” Not only do comments of this manner do little to stop the abuse that Asians have received, but it allows this type of rhetoric to thrive and sanctions its use within discourse.
Even if we are trying to hold China and its actions to account, we cannot paint East Asian communities living across the globe under the same brush. Members of East Asian communities should not have to answer questions about what the Chinese state has done, nor receive abuse about it. This applies to both the rhetoric relating to COVID-19 as well as with regards to the other issues mentioned.
You are an anti-Semite if you spread misinformation about the Jewish faith or assault a person because they are Jewish. Likewise, you are Islamophobic if you say that the 1.9 billion Muslims should apologise for the actions of a minority of Islamic extremists. We must raise this issue in the same way, and we must separate our critiques of a state from its people. Without this distinction we are at risk of tarnishing a whole population as a result of the actions of their leaders.
One has to be weary of our critiques spilling over to prejudices against East Asian communities in the West and the population in China. If that happens, we risk othering East Asian communities.