My friend recently returned to China after isolating on her own in Norwich. On her last day, she bought a burger and picnicked in the park. Only a few days later, she was dining with her parents back home in Beijing.
In Britain, anyone can buy a burger regardless of race, but Black people living in China cannot even get a big mac. “Notice: We’ve been informed that from now on black people are not allowed to enter the restaurant.” These very words stuck to the walls of McDonalds in Guangzhou last April. The restaurant chain explained themselves, but China did not. The global response has been limited as if responding to domestic incidences far outweighs the need to look globally. This is wrong.
Racism in America is oppositional to the values we assume to be a vital part of US cultural identity, like liberty, equality, diversity, and unity. According to a recent UN report, Chinese law does not even define “racial discrimination”. If the Chinese constitution were codified in such a way, then the world would potentially take more notice. All efforts to fight institutional racism must surely involve every single nation on the face of the earth, including dictatorships.
Let’s be blunt. Xi Jinping – the face of communist China – is one of the most evil spirited politicians in modern political history. For starters, he imprisons his critics and demands the affections of his own people. He oversees the repression of ethnic minorities – including Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang where “re-education camps” have been set up. In 2015, the U.N. Committee against Torture concluded torture still very much occurs in the region.
Last year, an ex-detainee told reporters about being forced to wear ‘iron clothes’, a suit made of metal that weighed over 50 pounds, because he hadn’t made his bed in the morning. Racism in China disturbs, yet hardly surprises. Chinese society is mostly homogeneous, so distinctions in physical appearance are more easily recognisable. Race tensions form part of China’s past as well as its present-day reality.
China’s crimes remain guarded by the often misused weapon of political and economic influence. After all, being friends with a business partner is hardly the same as maintaining a professional relationship, and fights between work colleagues tend to be work related.
In a similar way, choosing to be adversaries with China has been perceived foolish if not dangerous by Western policymakers.
Donald Trump has been a vocal critic, but very few others have stood up to the challenges faced by China. Standing up to China need not be difficult, nor risky. The main problem is doing it alone.
An example of China’s expanding influence is in the African continent. China’s investments have grown a little under $300b from 2005 to 2018, and Xi Jinping promised the region a further $60b that same year. These investments mask China’s ambition. China’s use of “bribes, opaque agreements and the strategic use of debt” have been meticulously criticised by US policymakers, but to no avail for the actual victims of Chinese expansionism.
There are more recent concerns that link to the threat posed by a number of imported coronavirus cases arriving in China – including Chinese nationals studying abroad – just as the domestic case level drops. According to multiple accounts, this had led to increased racial profiling and abuse against Black people living in China. Even worse as a China researcher at Human Rights Watch recently put it, “they’re trying to get rid of them.”
Chinese officials fear a second wave of Covid-19. But more evidently, the Chinese government fears the international response. This is why they conceal truths and hide official figures. Increased activity of crematoriums in Wuhan before February suggests the death rate was ten times the official statistic according to US research. Shaming China is a mistake, but tackling racism must involve confronting those who feed it.