Motoko Rich, New York Times, January 30, 2020
In Japan, the hashtag #ChineseDon’tComeToJapan has been trending on Twitter. In Singapore, tens of thousands of residents have signed a petition calling for the government to ban Chinese nationals from entering the country.
In Hong Kong, South Korea and Vietnam, businesses have posted signs saying that mainland Chinese customers are not welcome. In France, a front-page headline in a regional newspaper warned of a “Yellow Alert.” And in a suburb of Toronto, parents demanded that a school district keep children of a family that had recently returned from China out of classes for 17 days.
While public health officials scramble to contain the crisis, fears of the dangerous outbreak have fueled xenophobia as a wave of panic spreads that at times has far outstripped practical concerns.
At a time when China’s rise as a global economic and military power has unsettled its neighbors in Asia as well as its rivals in the West, the coronavirus is feeding into latent bigotry against the people of mainland China.
Countries like Malaysia, the Philippines, Russia and Vietnam have temporarily stopped issuing certain classes of visas to travelers from Hubei Province, where Wuhan is situated, or China altogether.
“I think it is time to put a temporary ‘do not enter’ sign on our doorstep for visitors from China,” said Ralph Recto, a lawmaker in the Philippines.
Bangkok residents are avoiding malls that are particularly popular with Chinese tourists. A plastic surgery office in the wealthy Gangnam neighborhood of Seoul has instructed employees that they can see Chinese customers only if they can prove that they have been in South Korea for 14 days or more, the potential period that the virus can lie dormant.
It is not always easy to discern the boundary between understandable fear and unmistakable discrimination. But some protective measures have effectively amounted to racial or ethnic profiling.
At Bread Box, a banh mi restaurant in central Hoi An, a popular tourist outpost in Vietnam, the owners posted a makeshift sign outside their storefront this month reading, “We can’t service for Chinese, SORRY!” Up the coast, the Danang Riverside Hotel announced on Saturday that it would not accept any Chinese guests because of the virus.
Kwong Wing Catering, a small restaurant chain in Hong Kong, announced in a Facebook post on Wednesday that it would serve only patrons speaking English or Cantonese, the city’s native language — a tongue distinct from the Mandarin spoken on the mainland.
But examples in both mass and social media have clearly crossed a line. In Australia, The Herald Sun, a Murdoch-owned newspaper, published the words “China Virus Panda-monium” over an image of a red mask. More than 46,000 people from the resident Chinese community in Australia signed a petition that called the headline “unacceptable race discrimination.”
Le Courrier Picard, a regional newspaper in northern France, caused outrage with its “Yellow Alert” headline this month. The newspaper later apologized.
On Twitter in Japan, where there has long been unease about the conduct of Chinese tourists, commenters have labeled them “dirty” and “insensitive” and have called them “bioterrorists.”
The episodes of racism have swept up other people of Asian descent. In France, one Vietnamese woman told the newspaper Le Monde that she had been insulted by a car driver who shouted “Keep your virus, dirty Chinese!” and “You are not welcome in France” as he sped away through a puddle, splashing her.
“While the virus can be traced to a province in China, we have to be cautious that this not be seen as a Chinese virus,” the school board in the York Region, a suburb with many Asian residents, said in a statement issued on Monday. “At times such as this, we must come together as Canadians and avoid any hint of xenophobia, which in this case can victimize our East Asian Chinese community.”