Coronavirus Exposes Xenophobia Worldwide

Protests in Seoul, South Korea calling for a ban on Chinese entering the country (Source: Washington Times)

The recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus has occupied the center of attention around the world. The timing of the outbreak very neatly coincided with the busiest travel period for the Chinese, the Lunar New Year. As millions of Chinese travel abroad, they are greeted with skepticism, plagued by a stigma resulting from paranoia about the coronavirus.

In addition to anti-Chinese waves on social media, there have been events in Japan, Vietnam and South Korea where restaurants have refused Chinese customers, while Singaporeans took to the streets to call for a ban on Chinese nationals entering their country.

Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin recently responded to the outbreak saying that Russia may deport foreign citizens who are infected, passing on the burden of providing healthcare. Recently two Chinese nationals were diagnosed with the coronavirus in Siberia.

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross reacted to news of the outbreak with an alarmingly insensitive attitude, saying, “I think it will help to accelerate the return of jobs to North America. Some to U.S. Probably some to Mexico as well…the fact is, it does give businesses yet another thing to consider when they go through their review of their supply chain.”

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Ross is seemingly unbothered by the human impact of this public health crisis, instead crudely focusing on potential changes in supply chain. Given the labor-intensive nature of many of the jobs that have recently transferred from the US to China, countries in Southeast Asia like Vietnam and Indonesia would be better suited to fill the void left by a disruption in the Chinese economy than the United States.

The skepticism has unfortunately extended to Asian people more generally, as people respond to the virus across the world. Chinese American basketball player Jeremy Lin, currently playing for the Beijing Ducks but residing in the US, wrote a concerned instagram post on the recent outbreak, “I’ve lived in China this past season and now being back on US soil, I’m saddened by the racist comments regarding the virus in China. There are real people suffering and real heroes working around the clock in service to others – please don’t let your fear or ignorance rob you of seeing that.” The coronavirus has caused the CBA to postpone their season.

As many airlines have begun canceling their service to China, the future remains uncertain for those across the world who have grown dependent on the revenue from Chinese tourists traveling abroad. Chinese tourists spent more than travelers from any other nation. Questions also remain about the future of international students, both studying in and from China, as many Chinese students have returned home for the Lunar New Year celebrations.

While Chinese face an ethnocentric backlash internationally, people from Hubei province, and specifically Wuhan where the outbreak began, have had to contend with a more local brand of discrimination. Many Chinese have treated Hubei people with skepticism and even downright disdain. Videos have done the rounds on social media of rural villagers setting up informal checkpoints to screen visitors to determine if they were from Hubei or Wuhan. As Chinese society continues to battle against the outbreak, the crisis has not only caused considerable economic damage but instances of xenophobia and discrimination continue.