SYDNEY (Reuters) – One in five Chinese Australians say they have been physically threatened or attacked in the past year because of the COVID-19 pandemic and tensions in Australia’s relations with China, a survey by the Lowy Institute think tank reported.
The findings prompted calls from the Chinese Australian Forum, a community group, for national leadership to tackle racism as Australia deals with a more assertive China, as well as recognition that the Chinese community in Australia has diverse political views and origins.
About 5% of Australia’s 25 million population claim Chinese ancestry, the national census shows. Half of Lowy’s survey respondents were born outside of mainland China, in places including Hong Kong, Malaysia and Taiwan.
“Chinese Australians will always be caught in geopolitical tensions with (China),” said the president of the Australia China Forum, Jason Li.
“How we manage the growing distrust of 1.4 million fellow Australians will be a significant test of our multiculturalism and our values as an open liberal society.”
Three-quarters of respondents said Australia was a good or very good place to live.
The survey was conducted when the Chinese embassy published a speech by deputy chief of mission Wang Xining, who attacked “ruffians” in Australia who criticized the Chinese government.
“The ruffians who deliberately slander China, undermine Sino-Australian friendship and undermine the welfare of the two nations for personal gain will be eliminated by the world, and their descendants will be embarrassed to mention their negative role in history, Wang said at an Australia China Business Council dinner.
The embassy has previously listed complaints against Australia, including Canberra’s call for an independent investigation into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, a ban on Chinese telecommunications company Huawe from participating in 5G networks, and restricting foreign investment on national security grounds.
Australia introduced a foreign interference law in 2018 that has increased scrutiny of political contributions by Australian Chinese and led to police raids on Chinese media.
Half of Lowy’s survey respondents said they were concerned about China’s influence on Australia’s political process, and half said the media and politicians were paying “the right amount” or “too little” attention to the issue.
Australian public broadcaster ABC launched a Chinese-language Youtube video channel this week offering Australian news, following concerns from the government and some community groups about the Chinese government’s influence on Chinese-language media outlets in Australia.
Li said the survey’s findings that seven in 10 Australian Chinese feel they belong to Australia “testifies to the strength of Australian multiculturalism”.
An equal number of Australian Chinese say they feel part of the Chinese (68%).
The survey also found strong support (65%) for Australia looking to find other markets to reduce its economic dependence on China.
This is the first time the Lowy Institute has conducted a Being Chinese in Australia survey of around 1,000 people, mostly recruited on social media, including Australian citizens, permanent residents and a large number of long-term visa holders. It is funded by the Australian government.
Reporting by Kirsty Needham; Edited by Lincoln Feast.