The Rise of The Wave: Sinophobia Throughout The World and Covid-19

  • Jul 5, 2021
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Racism and discrimination towards any particular individual/group/ religion/ gender/ race/ and other characters are not justifiable by international law. The case of Sinophobia itself is similar to the context of xenophobia and bigotry emergence where it is often attributed to two wide-scale causes. The first one is the shift in the migration patterns and the effect of globalization which has impacted the living standards, social behavior, political and psychological concerns raised towards migrants and other minority races. Learning from the past cases, the H1N1 virus outbreak has risen the number of negative sentiments and discrimination towards the Mexicans and the Ebola outbreak was linked to the racial discrimination of African people. These cases were symptomatic of the case of the Covid-19 pandemic where it began in China back in December 2019 and has led to the increasing concerns of negative sentiments towards Chinese/ other Asian people in general.

The history of anti-Chinese sentiment itself (Sinophobia) has been prolonging since it was started in the 19th century during the Chinese imperial war against the Mongols. The first-ever tangible sentiment was coined by Lord Palmerston when he was conquering the Chinese mainland during the First Opium War with the Chinese people under the Qing Dynasty (Billé, 2014). Palmerston at that time referred to the Chinese people as "uncivilized people '' added with its negative sentiments towards China that has severely impacted the course of the Opium War even onto the Second Opium War during 1850-1860. Another emergence of Sinophobia through Anti-Chinese sentiments that were proven by the adoption of the Chinese Exclusion Act by the United States in 1882. The Act itself was adopted and immediately stood as the constitutional basis for the United States to deny and further refrain all Chinese immigrants from entering US territory, the act was adopted ten years after adoption (Lee, 2003).


During the war of Sino-Japanese war, the notion of Xenophobia emerged to slash the Chinese morale during the war. Back in history when China wreaked havoc in Nagasaki and Japan soon after demanded China for an apology. Hence, China rejected it and the war lasted with the loss of China under the Qing Dynasty. However, the anti-Chinese sentiment tends to be lower during World War 2 as the United States is one of the strategic allies and cooperates with China to curb Japanese invasion within the Asia Pacific theatre. Throughout the year of 1920s, the notion of Sinophobia rose again in Europe because of the incoming waves of Chinese unskilled workers to Europe after importing Tea and spices from East Asia, this happened because at that time the Chinese laborers preferred to stay rather sailing back to China (White, 2017).

Populism concerns and right-wing politics
Populism is one of the recurring factors in prolonging the issue of xenophobia and negative sentiments towards migrants since the rise of populism waves around the world. When elaborating upon the notion of populism, rest assured that political ideology, partisan issues, and several other social events proliferated this notion which became a major concern for the international community on how to enforce humanitarian solidarity based on the agreed principles, or even how to address the issue. For instance, as per the current status quo, the sentiment brought by one of the right-wing leaders Donald Trump (President of the USA) refers to the Covid-19 pandemic as the "China Virus" instead of Coronavirus (Horton, 2020).

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This right-wing political notions against migrants and China especially will be causing the following problem: (1) ethnocentrism, where the society could eventually be divided into ingroups and outgroups, this will refrain unity especially during the crisis as of now; (2) prejudices and bigotry, in which these problems will also bring the feared symbolic and systemic racism as experienced by the African people in the past by the conduct of Apartheid; (3) affirmative policy actions among the governmental stakeholders which will cause the policymaking and response towards these sentiments onto a more unstable pattern. In which these policies will just stand but there are no affirmative actions towards it to support the hypothesis of humanitarian solidarity during the crisis; (4) and concerns where the sustainable development goals (SDGs) will no longer be affirmed as a guiding principle, and attacks towards Chinese people, its diaspora, and or its culture in the public society to be proliferating. In that sense, this will also drag countries to regress on their commitments towards international human rights norm settings and any such matters that uphold the principle of human rights governance.

Prolonged discrimination and negative sentiments towards the Chinese cultures and its people
The current wave of Sinophobia sentiment is now evolving onto a much more threatening unsustainable status quo since it can allow further unprecedented instability to occur. The present Sinophobia has split the solidarity within the international community in which polarisation between political blocs will blur the altruism of international norms during the Covid-19 pandemic (Horton, 2020). The Sinophonia itself will also lure further prolonged "cold war" in that sense between the west and China. This fear however can be refrained if the government will advocate the truth and logical narratives against the anti-China sentiments and breaking conspiracies that will perpetuate misperceptions and logical fallacy among the public society (Owen, 2017).

The manifestation of cultural fears about the context of Sinophobia itself will also draw an essential psychosocial dimension as it will be embedded in people's minds. Therefore, it can be concluded that fear towards any particular culture (in this case the Chinese culture) will hamper the common logical sense among societies, thus it will somehow stamp on how individuals perceive the sentiments onto a more cultural script rather than the individual nature (Tudor, 2003). This narrative of fear will also manifest the views that these anti-China sentiments will eventually become socially constructed norms and common sense, which is one of the dangerous systemic implications of the wave of Sinophobia. Especially considering the role of the media as of now during the Covid-19 pandemic, which rhymed with the notion that narratives, excitement, and fears brought by the media actors will significantly worsen the current status quo (Furedi, 1997).

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Relevant Past International Actions
International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)

ICERD was adopted by the UN General Assembly in December 1965 and is highlighted on the eradication of apartheid, prohibition of hate speech, and the promotion of tolerance. ICERD itself consists of 25 Articles and it also mentioned the importance of equality of political and social rights for all people, races, and color, and was signed by 88 states (ICERD, 1969). ICERD also includes the dispute resolution mechanisms and the individual complaints mechanisms to ensure checks and balances of the ICERD towards the tracklements of bigotry and xenophobia.

United Nations General Assembly Resolution A/RES/68/151
The UN General Assembly adopted this resolution in 2013 which titled Global efforts for the total elimination of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and related intolerance and the comprehensive implementation of and follow-up to the Durban Declaration and Programme of Action. The resolution was adopted with a majority vote to call upon member states to respond to the alarming events of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia, and intolerance, the resolution affirmed the solutions where member states shall consider their stance and acknowledge that the OHCHR will take its working mechanism to resolve the issue with cooperation and inviting a panel of experts. This resolution also enforced the commitment of member states towards the Durban Declaration and the World Conference against Xenophobia and Racism.

World Conference Against Racism and Xenophobia
The world conference against racism and xenophobia is known for its joint discussion paper by the International Labour Organization (ILO), International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) alongside the UN High Commissioner for Refugee (UNHCR) entitled “International Migration, Racism, Discrimination, and Xenophobia” was produced on October 2001. The document itself contained the core principle of the actions against migrations, racism, and xenophobia. Also, the document emphasized the core frameworks and recommendations for both the national action and the UN response towards xenophobia. The documents highlighted the importance of holistic approaches, the use of mass campaigns, and the right-based approach integrated with the policies implemented towards the issue (Global Migration Group, 2013). The document also highlighted the key roles of International Organizations as the facilitators of the responses, actions, and resolve of the discrimination, and xenophobia issues (United Nations, 2001).

Conclusion: Spillover effects of the Sinophobia on the Context of Human Rights and Covid-19
We cannot merely deny that Covid-19 and other country-specific issues like the Uyghur Muslim crisis and trade wars have become both fuels and spillover effects of Sinophobia. This can be understood when perceiving that narrative with the lens of the current situation in public society and social media as of now. For instance, Sinophobia has emerged in numerous countries and is linked to various events. For example, the case of the Uyghur Muslim crisis triggered the demonstrations in Turkey to protest the worsening human rights situations alongside Muslim's treatment in Xinjiang (Tasch, 2015).

Additionally, the Covid-19 pandemic where it began from China, has triggered many racism and discriminations towards not only Chinese but also other Asian (in which this can be considered as a tangible spillover from Sinophobia). The worst situations in every country as of now because of the Covid-19 pandemic brought thousands of cases of violence towards Asians in general and Chinese especially in western countries. Racial slurs are being thrown and cases where Chinese people have been turned away from seeking medication because they are "allegedly slandered" of bringing the virus. If these narratives are analyzed carefully, this will eventually bring the other non-Chinese Asians to distance themselves from any China-related things to avoid being discriminated against. The Covid-19 may not be the real culprit of the issue as of now, but the dynamics in international politics and society have brought this Covid-19 context to open more doors towards more prejudices and sentiments towards China (Albader, 2020). And this will proliferate the problem from health crisis to the societal systemic racism and discrimination fueled by Sinophobia onto the final result, which is victim-blaming in a prone and vulnerable society amidst the crisis.

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Author: Hino Samuel Jose (Department of International Relations, UPN Veteran Jakarta)

Email: abrahamhinosamueljose@upnvj.ac.id

Editor: HubunganInternasional.id


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