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Jakarta Post

Activists, politicians urge protection of Chinese mistreated over coronavirus

  • Michael Andrew

    The Jakarta Post

Jakarta   /   Wed, February 5, 2020   /   01:37 pm
Activists, politicians urge protection of Chinese mistreated over coronavirus This photo taken on February 3, 2020 shows a medical staff member (L) being disinfected by a colleague before leaving a quarantine zone converted from a hotel in Wuhan, the epicentre of the new coronavirus outbreak, in China's central Hubei province. - The number of total infections in China's coronavirus outbreak has passed 20,400 nationwide with 3,235 new cases confirmed, the National Health Commission said on February 4. (AFP/STR)

Activists and politicians are denouncing the growing harassment and mistreatment of Chinese tourists and migrants that has been inflamed by the global fear of the 2019 coronavirus (2019-nCoV). 

News outlets and social media users in Europe and North America are reporting a rise of public abuse and discrimination against Chinese people and people of Chinese descent, many of whom are being directly blamed for the spread of the virus. 

In parts of Southeast Asia, some businesses have reportedly been erecting signs barring Chinese customers from entry. 

“Because your country is beginning [to] spread disease [...] we do not accept to serve the guest from China,” read a sign in English outside a hotel in Danang, Vietnam, reports Reuters. 

According to the same report, a group of Chinese tourists in Indonesia’s West Sumatra were met by locals holding a banner that read: “We, the West Sumatran communities, reject the visit of Chinese tourists.” 

Indonesian researcher Andreas Harsono of Human Rights Watch (HRW) said this type of discrimination is a violation of human rights and does little to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus.

“Violating the rights of Chinese people, either those who work in Indonesia or those who just traveled into Indonesia, in the effort to address the coronavirus outbreak will be counterproductive. Transparency and engaging civil society will be the far better approach,” he said.

“Authorities in places outside China should prohibit discrimination and harassment against people from China and ensure their equal access to hotels and medical care.”

HRW is keeping a close eye on international measures to contain the virus, which have included numerous countries closing borders to Chinese nationals against the World Health Organization’s advice.

Harsono said these measures needed to be carefully measured and deployed in order to operate within international law and preserve people’s dignity and human rights.

“Restrictions such as quarantine or isolation of symptomatic people must, at a minimum, be provided for and carried out in accordance with the law,” Harsono said on behalf of HRW.

“They must be strictly necessary to achieve a legitimate objective, the least intrusive and restrictive available to reach the objective, based on scientific evidence, neither arbitrary nor discriminatory in application, of limited duration, respectful of human dignity and subject to review.”

Anti-Chinese sentiment has been a growing problem in Southeast Asia – even before the coronavirus outbreak – as China’s influence and presence in the region increased. However, the sudden rise in abuse has prompted senior politicians to rally to China’s defense.

“China has been kind to us; we can only also show the same favor to them. Stop this xenophobia thing,” Philippine’s President Rodrigo Duterte said at a press conference on Monday, according to public transcripts.

“They are blaming the Chinese that [the virus] came from China, but it could always incubate in some other place,” he said.

In other parts of the world, social media users have reported witnessing Chinese people facing abuse on trains and in schools.

“It’s awful. We sat next to a lady on the train who’s lived in NZ [New Zealand] for over 30 years and she told us that people had been yelling at her to stay away from them and 'go home'. She looked so sad,” tweeted one twitter user. 

New Zealand Green Party politician Golriz Ghahraman replied with a plea to protect Asian communities.

“Can we please unite to protect our Chinese and East Asian origin communities against this heartbreaking abuse? Infectious disease isn’t race-based. Prejudice and hate is. And it’s a more dangerous enduring ill if we let it grow.”

Chinese residents in France have been sharing their experiences of racism with the hashtag #JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (I am not a virus).

“Not all Asians are Chinese. Not all Chinese were born in China and not all have been there. An Asian who coughs doesn’t have the coronavirus. Insulting an Asian because of the virus is like insulting a Muslim because of the bombings,” said one French twitter user.

Other social media users have condemned the disproportionate media coverage of the coronavirus and the heavy-handed measures to stop it spreading when epidemics in other countries have gone comparatively unreported.

“Under cover of coronavirus, the US and its 'allies' are waging war against China,” tweeted Australian journalist John Pilger.

“The racist travel bans and media hysteria are not approved by WHO. China's response to the emergency has been a model – unlike the US whose current flu epidemic has killed 10,000 and isn't news.”

– The writer is an intern under the ACICIS program