On ‘Yellow Peril’ and Fears of China

The specter of history never lurks far away from our public debates. Consider the debate about foreign influence. Notable commentators have suggested there is a ‘silent invasion’ of Australia being conducted by China, with the Chinese party-state planting ‘fifth column’ operatives within our public institutions. It goes without saying that we must protect our democratic institutions from foreign interference. This should give no excuse, though, for some to rerun old fears about the Yellow Peril.

Dr. Soutphommasane dives into the heated debate about Chinese influence on Australian politics by calling out Clive Hamilton, the author of a book about Chinese interference titled “Silent Invasion.”

He goes on to cite specific examples of the trickle-down impact of the discussion, including an incident involving Jenny Leong, a Greens party lawmaker in the New South Wales Parliament, who was harangued by a woman who said: “You are taking over. I know your plan. We are all now second-class citizens because you Chinese are taking over.”

[Read More: 200 years on, Chinese-Australians are still proving they belong.]

On the Media’s ‘Monetization of Racism’

It’s not just politics that is behind this. Alongside the politicization of racial fear, we are also seeing the monetization of racism.

Sections of a fracturing media industry, under the strain of technological disruption, seem to be using racism as part of their business model.

The Australian media landscape is one of the most highly concentrated in the world, and Dr. Soutphommasane is arguing that some media outlets are using racism to attract eyeballs.

These tend to be outlets owned by Rupert Murdoch.

Sky News Australia, a Murdoch-owned cable news channel, faced withering criticism for airing an interview with Blair Cottrell, the former leader of an anti-Islam, far-right group who has expressed pro-Nazi views.

On Sunday, it admitted on Twitter that “it was wrong” to have done so.

The Australian Press Council also recently received complaints after Andrew Bolt, a conservative commentator for News Corporation, wrote a column last week that described “a tidal wave of immigrants” sweeping away “what’s left of our national identity.”

On ‘Ethnic Ghettos’

Take multiculturalism. There is simply no compelling evidence that Australian multiculturalism is in danger of veering towards ethnic separatism. The evidence shows that we continue to conduct integration extremely well. The children of migrants, on average, outperform the children of Australian-born parents on education and employment. Our social mobility remains high by international standards. Many of those areas which people slander as ethnic ghettos are dynamic and vibrant communities, where no one single ethnic or racial group predominates, and where property prices have been on the rise — hardly signs of ghettos.

Dr. Soutphommasane grew up in Fairfield, an area of Sydney that has long been the first stop for immigrant families like his own — and here he is arguing that those who fear such areas do not understand how they work.

Within a generation, research from the United States and other countries shows, integration tends to accelerate rapidly, with many children of immigrants becoming high achievers.

Orignially published in NYT.

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