The Coronavirus pandemic is being utilized by hate-mongers to further Sinophobic attitudes in Australia, thus creating and furthering negative attitudes toward Chinese people and Asians in general.
In Australia, the usual suspects have weaponized the age-old trope of “Chinese takeover” to stir anxieties and blame Chinese people for nearly every problem in Australia during the coronavirus. Chinese people have become a scapegoat for racial anxiety, economic concerns, and a pervasive fear during the Covid-19 pandemic. Furthermore, this anxiety is being fueled by Donald Trump. The US president’s calling Covid-19 “The Chinese Virus” is blaming the Chinese government for the outbreak of the virus, and that blame is being transferred to Chinese people in general.
As quarantines continue, the social isolation of already at-risk individuals prone to extremism will only exacerbate the conversion of online hate speech into real life hate crimes. On the 18th of April, two Chinese students were assaulted in Melbourne, no doubt driven to the act by reading hateful comments online.
Donald Trump has fueled Sinophobia by calling Coronavirus “the Chinese Virus” – which is emboldening hate networks, online trolling, and cyber-hate. Cyberbullying against Asians has grown by 900%. It will undoubtedly lead to real-life violence and hate acts.
Playing on Fears of a ‘Chinese Takeover’
It is notable that even pages geared toward being anti-Muslim, are pivoting toward anti-Chinese sentiments. They stir up anxiety over “Chinese takeover” or a Chinese 5th column in Australia. “Australians Against Sharia 2”, an explicitly anti-Muslim Facebook group, is spreading anti-Chinese sentiment by equating Chinese Australians with the communist regime.
The above post is an example of equating Chinese Australians to being puppets of the CCP. Chinese Australians, many of whom come to Australia to escape the totalitarian regime, are being connected to the nefarious machinations of the Chinese Communist Party. The page alleges, without evidence, that China’s social credit score is being used to manipulate expatriate Chinese Australians into hoarding supermarket supplies, which completely deflects blame or responsibility from Australians at large who are hoarding supplies.
The Virgin airlines bankruptcy issue is also being used to spread anti-Chinese sentiment, linking back to fears of a Chinese takeover of Australia. “The vultures are circling” is no doubt a reference to Chinese investors that are looking to purchase the bankrupt Virgin Airlines. It’s not just the anxiety over coronavirus as being the “Chinese virus” that’s being used to ignite hate online, but the economic repercussions and the common trope of “scheming Chinese” using Australia’s misfortune to capitalize and slowly take over the country by stealth.
Why is economic anxiety important? Many accounts online do not distinguish between the actions of the Chinese government and Chinese people — leading to over-generalizations and hate speech. With fears rising over the Chinese government, no doubt that this hate will be projected onto Chinese people themselves. Chinese people make up a large proportion of Australia’s recent migrant background, as well as our international student population. The comment above clearly demonstrates this anxiety in action, which expresses fear over a “Chinese economic takeover” trope.
Chinese Blamed for Supermarket Hoarding
As anxieties increase over supermarket hoarding, hate networks are quick to capitalize on pinpointing this behavior exclusively on Chinese people, linking them back to the cause of the virus and the cause of the frustrations of finding common items in our supermarkets. The above post made by Nationalist Alternative (a white ethno-nationalist extremist page) is demonstrating that very linkage by equating Chinese people to locusts based on news of supermarket hoarding. The page admins state, “Typical greedy and selfish behaviour by the Chinese.”
Commenters are quick to call out ethnicity and pile on with hate speech, first comment calls the man in the video a “Chinga” (slur for Chinese person) and the second demands for Chinese people to be expelled from Australia.
Advocating a ‘White Australia Policy’
The “Chinese virus” (no doubt derived from Trump’s usage of the term) is being used as a slur here by Nationalist Alternative aimed at Chinese people. Finally, Chinese students are equated to being a burden and used to advocate for White Australia Policy. Coronavirus is being exploited to the fullest to denigrate Chinese people, but also to undermine the very fabric of multicultural Australia by promoting White Australia policy. It is clear that extremist nationalist social media is capitalizing on the hysteria of Coronavirus to promote hate and its political agenda.
Denigrating Chinese People
The Quiet Australian is a page dedicated to propagating conservative Australian messages. It, however, is spreading racist messages against Chinese people, by echoing a common trope of the Coronavirus originating due to a man eating a bat in Wuhan. “In Wuhan this means your dinner is ready” is aimed at denigrating Chinese people as backward or barbarians with unusual eating habits.
Where does it end?
It’s clear that the Coronavirus pandemic is being utilized by anti-immigrant, conservative, and extremist groups to fuel Sinophobia and anti-Asian attitudes. As self-isolation and economic downturn continues, the internet will be used by groups to scapegoat Chinese people for nearly every problem being experienced. Without connection to the outside world and the mediating effects of social interaction, individuals may become isolated in their echo-chambers online and harbor deep racist attitudes. Once social distancing laws are relaxed, a larger spate of hate crimes may emerge. And most worryingly, it may lead to more cases of real life hate crimes.
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This article is part of the Online Hate Prevention Institute’s special focus on Coronavirus: Racism, Hate Speech and Fake News.