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China trade tensions inflamed racist threats, attacks: report

Jessica Yun
·3-min read
SYDNEY, Jan. 14, 2021 -- People walk past the Sydney Opera House in Sydney, Australia, Jan. 14, 2021. Australia's biggest city of Sydney recorded five locally acquired cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday, as authorities urged the public to get tested and increase openness and transparency with contact tracers. (Photo by Bai Xuefei/Xinhua via Getty) (Xinhua/Bai Xuefei via Getty Images)
Chinese Australians have been "collateral damage" in the midst of the breakdown in Canberra-Beijing relations. (Photo: Xinhua/Bai Xuefei via Getty Images)

More than half of Chinese-Australians who experienced recent racial discrimination attribute it to the deteriorated relationship between Canberra and Beijing, new research has found.

The Lowy Institute’s new ‘Being Chinese in Australia' report, released today, revealed nearly one in five Australians with Chinese heritage had been physically threatened or attacked in the last 12 months because of their Chinese identity.

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Of more than 1,000 people who were surveyed, nearly one in three (31 per cent) said they had been called offensive names due to their heritage, and this figure rose to 37 per cent when looking at Chinese-Australians who said they had been treated differently or less favourably because of their background.

Of all those who answered ‘yes’ to having experienced negative treatment or abuse, more than half (52 per cent) said that the state of Australia-China relations had contributed to that experience.

(Source: Lowy Institute)
(Source: Lowy Institute)
(Source: Lowy Institute)
(Source: Lowy Institute)

And half of the Chinese-Australian community feel that Australian media coverage of China is too negative.

Report co-author Natasha Kassam said she wasn’t surprised to hear that bilateral tensions had had a negative impact on this demographic.

“As the relationship has soured, there’s been increasing scrutiny on these communities,” she told Yahoo Finance.

Neither the Australian government nor the Chinese government have reached out adequately to the Chinese-heritage community in Australia, she added, stating there was a “culture of fear and suspicion” and propaganda on both sides.

However, she pointed out that the research also revealed some heartening results: a majority (63 per cent) of Chinese-Australians said they personally felt accepted in their day-to-day- life in Australian society.

But the political fall-out between Australia and China had contributed to racist experiences, Kassam said, adding that Australia’s political leaders had not helped.

“There is still great concern that the political relationship and tensions brought by the COVID-19 pandemic has led to Chinese Australians seen as collateral damage.”

“The combination of heightened rhetoric in the media and comments from politicians have certainly harmed the government’s efforts to address this serious problem.”

Liberal senator Eric Abetz sparked a storm of outrage after he repeatedly asked three Chinese-Australians to denounce the Chinese Communist Party during a Senate committee hearing in mid-October last year.

Think tank Per Capita research fellow Osmond Chiu, who was one of the three grilled by Abetz, said in an opinion piece that he refused to answer Abetz “because it was demeaning and I would not legitimise his tactic with an answer”. Abetz has refused to apologise for his comments.

More recently, Prime Minister Scott Morrison attempted to appeal to the Chinese-Australian community by stating they were “appreciated” as “part of our great Australian family”.

This was followed by comments from Health Minister Greg Hunt who said: “I remember going down to see Tommy at the Wok on Bay in Mount Martha; still serves the best prawn crackers on the Peninsula.”

The Lowy Institute’s report comes four months after a survey of over 3,000 people by Australian National University revealed 84.5 per cent of Asian-Australians reported at least one instance of discrimination between January and October 2020.

"We know that sadly many Asian-Australians still face and experience discrimination every day," said report partner ANU Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership (CAAL) director Jieh-Yung Lo.

The rapid descent in Australia-China relations began when Canberra led the call for an independent inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 virus, which was first reported in Wuhan, China.

Since then, Canberra has been the subject of relentless attacks from Chinese state media.

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