Chinese Australian community fears ‘guilt by association’ amid worsening diplomatic relations

19-Sep-2020 Intellasia | ABC | 6:02 AM Print This Post

Chinese communities in Australia have been divided over Canberra and Beijing’s worsening relations, with some people feeling like they are getting caught in the middle.

John Hugh, a former councillor in Paramatta who was originally from Shanghai, told the ABC that relations were now the worst he had seen in 30 years.

Hugh is an outspoken critic of the Chinese Communist Party and its alleged interference in Australia, and has previously been denied entry to China.

“I think it’s at the worst point since the two countries established a diplomatic relationship,” he said, adding that he felt Chinese authorities were to blame.

“It’s not so much about [being] against the Chinese people, or China as a country, it’s because of the Chinese Communist Party.

“They distract and interfere with our country’s affairs… We have to fight back.”

Hugh said he fully supported the harder approach the Federal government appeared to be taking with China, which he believed was “the only way to move the relationship forward”.

Some members of the Chinese community who have previously experienced hardship at the hands of Chinese authorities also praised Australia’s stance.

“It has absolutely no effect on me… In fact, I fully support the actions of the Australian government,” said Sydney resident Henry, who fled China 33 years ago with his son.

But there is a diversity of opinion in the community about Canberra’s handling of the diplomatic stoush.

Tensions make it dangerous to speak up

Canberra resident Sam Wong has been in Australia for an even longer time than Hugh 2020 marks his 51st year here, after first arriving from Hong Kong as a pharmacy student.

He went on to have a long career with the Department of Health, and is still involved with Chinese and multicultural groups in Australia.

Wong agrees that the past two years in China-Australia relations have been “probably the worst” he has ever seen, but he hopes the relationship can be salvaged.

“On a political level, there are differences, I understand,” he told the ABC.

“On the other hand, there’s also cultural heritage, trade, education, many other things across the so-called human line. I think we need to look at that, value that.”

Wong said there was a growing fear among Chinese Australians about voicing their opinions on the tensions especially if they could be viewed as potentially pro-Beijing.

“I’ve lived here for 50 years, I’ve always liked the country to be peaceful and have harmonious relations,” he said.

“But if I start trying to say something [about China] on the positive side or less than negative then I’ll be easily accused of being sort of an agent of the Chinese authorities.”

Wong said this situation was being driven by what he called “media abuse”, and that some in the Chinese Australian community are fearful of “guilt by association”, especially if they have been photographed in the past standing beside someone accused of foreign interference.

“Chinese people in the past, present and future like to take pictures with government officials, including Australian prime ministers and so on,” he said.

“I don’t like to see this dysfunctional situation within the Chinese community, also within the Australian community, saying that we are all spies and we’ve come here to take over the country.”

Fear of violence, harassment

Bing Liu came to Australia more than 30 years ago, and she’s worried that the rapid deterioration of diplomatic ties may affect her personally.

“We are all bombarded with negative news. This impacts badly on the local Chinese community,” she said.

Ms Bing said she was getting a sense that attitudes towards China in Australia were changing, and that even on WeChat discussion groups, users who used to rigorously defend the Chinese government have been somewhat restrained of late.

“[My best friend] said that the fact I’m still her best friend hasn’t changed… but her view on the Chinese government has turned negative,” she said.

Annie Guan, a mother of three teenagers, came to Australia from Beijing about a decade ago.

She said what worried her the most was the possibility of being mistreated in Australia.

There have been reports of increased harassment against people of Asian ethnicity in Australia in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, however it is not known if Australia and China’s troubled ties are also having an impact.

“I do worry that the current negative sentiment in Australian society may [lead people to] use local Chinese to let out their anger,” Ms Guan said.

“I think the only thing I can do is to continue to be a good member of the community and do my best to help my community and friends.”


Category: China

Print This Post