Understanding China/Chinese phobia
FROM FAR AND NEAR - Ruben Almendras (The Freeman) - February 11, 2020 - 12:00am

The recent coronavirus epidemic which is a month old and has resulted in more than 40,000 infected and over 700 deaths has spawned anti-Chinese sentiment in many parts of the world, particularly in countries with a lot of Chinese presence as tourists and temporary workers. This has been directed mainly to mainland Chinese, as they are the ones suspected as probable carriers of the virus due to their more frequent trips to and from China provinces and other parts of the world. The travel ban and entry restrictions by many countries of flights from China is signaling and compounding this issue. Then, if we add all the fake news and unverified postings in social media, this is an added big problem for China, on top of the still-ongoing epidemic.

The underlying basis for this sinophobia is the origin of the coronavirus, Wuhan City in China. Due to its population of 11 million and its being an industrial city, people from all over China and neighboring Asian countries visit Wuhan. Wuhan Chinese with their newfound prosperity, also travel to many Chinese and Asian cities. Therefore, there are many possible carriers of the virus, mostly Chinese but also other nationalities that have traveled to Wuhan. The travel restrictions against the Chinese which may be viewed as unjust and unreasonable, are supported by other countries valid precautionary actions to protect their own citizens.

From a broader and longer-term perspective, this sinophobia has multiple and deeper roots. In the last 40 years China has leapfrogged many countries in terms of economic development. Along the way it has dominated the manufacturing and exports sectors all over the world, made investments in all continents, modernized its armed forces, and creepingly expanded its territory. China flexed its muscles economically and militarily for all the world to see and boldly. The expanding Chinese middle class that has increasing purchasing power had become the largest world travelers and consumers. In 2018, Chinese tourists made 150 million trips abroad and spent $277 billion, which is 14 times more than in 2002. This is too big and too fast, that it really gets attention. The undisciplined and unruly behavior of some Chinese tourists has also been criticized and is splashed in the main and social media which adds to the resentment.

The political behavior of the Chinese government in the last 20 years also adds fuel to China phobia. Their territorial claims in the South China Sea which is contested by Vietnam, the Philippines, Indonesia, and Malaysia is not winning them friends. The crackdown in Hong Kong, neighboring Tibet, and the Uighurs which are now known worldwide, adds to this resentment against China and its people. The onerous terms and squeeze play of the Chinese banks and joint venture partners on defaulting private and sovereign borrowers in Africa and Latin America, have turned on anti-Chinese sentiments in these countries.

In the case of the Philippines, the perception is that the 90% of the prohibited drugs come from China, the online gambling casinos have brought with it prostitution and crime, and now the coronavirus. At a time when 77% of the Filipinos polled have adverse sentiments towards China, these are added fuel to sinophobia.

From what is available in the main and social media, it appears that the Chinese propaganda machine is running full speed. But these will not correct the existing realities of China’s hegemonic and expansionary intentions in the world, and the undemocratic treatment of its own people. Sooner or later, the limited freedom brought about by liberal economic policies will confront them with demands for more political freedom.

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