We don’t need China to tell us Australian racism exists – just ask international students

From a student’s perspective:

Choosing to study abroad is as much a leap of faith as it is a financial commitment. The decision to uproot one’s life from the comforts of home is always made with the belief that the new place we have chosen to stake a formative portion of our lives will ultimately value our presence.

For many Chinese international students enduring the pandemic on Australian shores, that belief has been shaken. In the latest round of political sparring between China and Australia, the Chinese government has advised its citizens and students to reassess travel plans to Australia, citing a rise in racial discrimination and incidents of abuse towards people of Asian descent. Australia was quick to categorically reject the assertions as “disinformation”and “demonstrably untrue”. But political posturing rarely provides clarity on issues, and more often exposes the insecurities of the players rather than the intended show of strength.

Whether China’s caveat stems from a genuine concern for the wellbeing of its citizens or is part of a broader punitive strategy to condemn Australia’s push for an independent review into Covid-19’s origins will be dissected ad nauseam in the coming weeks. But instead of the preoccupation with how foreign powers choose to define Australian society, perhaps the more deserving and pressing matter for the government is to listen to the voices of those who live under its care.

Indictments don’t have weight without context, and whether or not it’s convenient for those in power to acknowledge, the pandemic has unearthed the reality of strained race relations that permeate Australian society. The Australian Human Rights Commission and Anti-Discrimination NSW have documented a surge in anti-Asian racism, while the Asian Australian Alliance has reported almost 400 racist incidents since April. Behind the dispassionate statistics is a traumatic inventory of lived experiences by the Asian Australian community: a bus driver verbally assaulted, two sisters spat at while crossing the street, a family’s home vandalised with hateful graffiti, an international student punched for wearing a face mask.

These racist sentiments were not spawned by Covid-19 – the virus merely amplified their potency and provided an unabashed avenue for their release. And yet, when China’s travel warnings were issued, Chinese international students quickly came to Australia’s defence, rebuking the notion that studying here was dangerous and expressing dismay that they were being used as bargaining chips in the escalating economic tug-of-war between China and Australia.

About Andrew
Andrew blogs and tweets public policy issues, particularly the relationship between the political and bureaucratic levels, citizenship and multiculturalism. His latest book, Policy Arrogance or Innocent Bias, recounts his experience as a senior public servant in this area.

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