Anti-Chinese xenophobia has tainted some responses to the pandemic
Amidst the pandemic crisis, we have seen propaganda efforts by states, politicians and press to promote their own image and scapegoat others. The Chinese government and its press and supporters boast that they are leading the world against the virus. Other governments, especially in the UK and US, are deflecting blame for their own shortcomings onto China.
The Chinese state’s censorship and brittle authoritarianism do appear to have obstructed good handling of the outbreak, especially in the crucial early stages - for instance, its attempts to silence health workers who spoke out. As a campaign standing in solidarity with the persecuted Uyghur people of East Turkestan (ruled as “Xinjiang” region by the Beijing government), we are particularly disturbed by the following abuses for which the Chinese state is responsible:
• the threat of the virus tearing through the crowded internment camps in which more than one million Uyghur people and other Turkic minorities are imprisoned
• reports that Uyghur people under lockdown have been denied the bare essentials of food and other supplies
• the risk that the coercion of Uyghur workers into forced labour serving big business, sometimes being transferred around the country, may spread the virus and expose Uyghurs to increased danger - reports indicate that the press-ganging of Uyghur workers has resumed to kick-start production while others are still off work to avoid infection.
These failures and crimes by a brutal totalitarian state must not be whitewashed. It is right to demand that other governments pressure China’s government to respect human rights and democracy. It is right for governments to act on those demands, out of solidarity with the Uyghurs and other oppressed peoples. However, mobilising nationalist, xenophobic resentment against China because of the virus’ origin will not help this cause.
We cannot accept the use of genuine concerns about human rights as a political football by some other governments, which are not blameless in the crisis. This cynical deflection from what governments can and should be doing now, threatens to discredit and undermine the cause of freedom and human rights for the Uyghur people and other victims of the Chinese state.
And we oppose racist language which conflates the Chinese state with China as a nation and the Chinese people. Rhetoric like “Wu-flu” and “Chinese virus” (terms rejected by the World Health Organisation) is, at best, irresponsible when there are bigoted attacks on Chinese people in Western streets. It can only encourage prejudice towards foreigners, and inwards-looking nationalism, when international solidarity is vital.
The people of China are not responsible for the actions of the government that rules them - on the contrary, the people living under that government are the ones who suffer most from its crimes.
Now more than ever, we stand for solidarity around the world with all oppressed and exploited people, and against any power that puts profit or prejudice before human life.