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Hostility being stoked up by 'blame China' rhetoric



FILE PHOTO: A 3D-printed coronavirus model is seen in front of the words coronavirus disease (COVID-19) on display in this illustration taken March 25, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

"Blame China" rhetoric and longstanding "yellow peril" scare tactics are creating hostility toward China and Chinese people, according to Jenny Clegg, vice-president of the Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding, who has called on nations to communicate and overcome their mistrust.

Clegg said: "Both mainstream and social media are feeding a 'blame China' narrative, often spreading fake news or partial truths which is creating hostility towards China and Chinese people with an alarming rise in hate crime."

According to the Conservative Friends of the Chinese, an organization representing British Chinese communities, there has been a record number of racially aggravated incidents nationally, including nearly 300 offenses of racial hate crimes against British Chinese communities during the first three months of 2020. There were 375 such offenses recorded during the whole of 2019.

Clegg said the trigger for much of the trouble came when United States President Donald Trump insisted on calling the novel coronavirus "the China virus".

She said: "We don't call AIDS the American disease, nor Ebola the African disease. It's easy to see Trump is looking for a scapegoat to deflect attention from his own unutterable incompetence but he's racializing and politicizing the agenda here in a very dangerous way, attempting to frame China as the new enemy."

Clegg said the "blame China" rhetoric is being repeated in the media every day. She gave the example of how Western media portrayed the Wuhan lockdown as a "draconian act" and talked of Chinese people living "in a kind of semi-gulag". And of how Western media have accused China of lying about the numbers of cases and fatalities, and of withholding information about the virus from the start. She said Western media even portray China's offer of medical assistance to other countries as some kind of "underhanded global takeover".

Clegg, who has a particular interest in China and the Pacific region and who authored the book China's Global Strategy: Toward a Multipolar World, said the West has a long history of "yellow peril scares" going back to the first days of mass immigration in the 1860s. The scares stoke people's fears that China is about to swamp the world.

"So, media stories resonate with these deep-rooted fears, conveying a subtle message that China is a danger to the world. China is kept at a distance and there's a general lack of engagement with Chinese people and Chinese society," she said.

Clegg said China actually deserves credit for acting decisively and doing "a remarkable job in containing the virus, with fewer than 5,000 deaths".

"Yes, there were mistakes at first-let's not forget that China was the first to face this virus-but we now know how difficult it is to detect and to test," Clegg said. "What the government did was follow rigorously standard public health procedure to test, trace, and isolate. The lockdown really was a lockdown, no matter the short-term damage to the economy."

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, has hit more than 210 countries and regions, infected about 6.5 million people, and claimed nearly 390,000 lives.

Clegg said the virus cannot be defeated by governments acting alone, which makes cross-border collaboration vitally important.

"We need dialogue; we need to break down suspicion and mistrust. Security is not about military dominance; it's about cooperation and solidarity," she said. "The enemy is not China; it's the virus. The weapons are not nuclear missiles but international solidarity and cooperation. Security is a shared world interest."