China’s warning to its citizens to reconsider travel and pursuing university studies in Australia , due to a rise in racist attacks against Asians there, is on the face of it a fair call. It is true that racism against Asians – both causing physical and mental harm to victims – has risen substantially since the Covid-19 outbreak was first traced back to the Chinese city of Wuhan. Hundreds of Asians have reported incidents of racism to both the Australian Human Rights Commission and hotlines run by individuals and groups such as Osmond Chiu of the Per Capita think-tank, Asian Australian Alliance, and Being Asian Australian. There are likely hundreds more who have chosen to stay silent mostly because they think the effort would exceed the benefits of justice, if at all. Racism is unlawful in Australia at the federal level but apart from criminal offences such as racially-motivated assaults, victims of harassment or racial abuse have found it time-consumingly onerous to get recourse. They can get civil compensation privately or in court if the government determines the law has been breached but both activists and lawyers have pointed out how archaic the law is now in penalising acts of racism. Given the situation, Beijing has every right to issue a warning to Chinese citizens. After all, travel advisories from Western countries to citizens travelling to places such as Egypt and Syria are littered with warnings of terrorist attacks. But the timing of Beijing’s statements suggests its motivation is disingenuous. There are few people, if any, travelling at this time and why wasn’t a warning issued against the United States while protests were raging? The subsequent warning to university students to reconsider studies in Australia can be said to have some merit considering the spring semester is about to start. What this reveals to me is that racism, a critical human rights issue – now more than ever – is being used as a political tool to feed the savagery of geopolitics. ‘You Chinese virus spreader’: Australia has a racism outbreak to deal with China’s moves make clear Australia is firmly now in the “nemesis” camp and will have to pay the price for leading the call for international investigations into the origins of the coronavirus. Of course, Australia has not helped itself with baseless media articles targeting Chinese Australians, whether it’s about sending masks overseas or defaming Chinese Australian public servants for their alleged links to the Chinese government. But China has zero basis for decrying racism, especially when aspersions are being cast on its own human rights records. Look at its treatment of ethnic Muslim Uygurs in the northwestern region of Xinjiang , not to mention the allegations of repression and torture of Tibetans, who are treated as second class citizens and the detentions of Chinese citizens and foreigners who cannot exercise their legal rights. It is therefore hypocritical for China to appear “protective” of its citizens when it does not care about all its people equally. More disappointingly, Australia’s response to the Chinese warnings is no better. Trade minister Simon Birmingham this week rejected China’s warning as having “no basis in fact”. To his credit, he did tell the national broadcaster on radio while there weren’t zero incidents, there was zero tolerance for racism. That grand gesture was ruined when he claimed Australia was the most successful multicultural country in the world and later confused us all again by saying there was no increase in racist attacks against Chinese students. China is right to criticise the US on race. Next step, more Uygurs on politburo Worse still, Australian Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack appeared to condone violence to Chinese Australians and completely denied the existence of racism when asked to respond to China’s warnings. “Well, that there hasn’t been a wave of outbreaks of violence against Chinese people. I don’t know why this has been stated. I don’t know. I don’t know what was in the thinking of the organisation or the person who made the statement. But all I can say is the statement is not true,” he said at a press conference. Denying racism is as bad as being racist, as the denial gaslights the victims, hardening the injustice of being treated unfairly, experts say. Asian-Australians, or any Australians of colour, simply don’t need white Australians to tell them what racism is or isn’t. Chiu of Per Capita, who is independently recording incidents of racism, said Australia had always struggled to have a mature conversation on the topic. “It can provoke a defensive reaction because there is a pretence it is only an isolated problem rather than a systemic issue. “It is treated like a collective admission of permanent moral failure rather than an ongoing process of attempting to be a better, more inclusive society and live up to values of equality and multiculturalism. “The focus on violence is a form of deflection. Plausibly because China is seen as a greater threat in their eyes than if Asian-Australians are on the receiving end of abuse, spitting, and physical intimidation.” Asked if there was a role for the Race Discrimination Commissioner or his office, the Human Rights Commission, to play in questioning how and what politicians say about racism, the current Commissioner Chin Tan said he had no comment about what was said thus far but indicated the reports of racial abuse in relation to Covid-19 were troubling. For Koreans, an uncomfortable reminder that racial discrimination is still legal “I have seen reports pointing to an increase in racism, both locally and internationally, as a result of Covid-19. It is difficult to quantify the extent of racial incidents in relation to Covid-19, or in Australia generally, due to a lack of comprehensive national data. Racism complaints made to the Commission are only one indicator, and do not paint a complete picture,” he said. “I take all reports of racial abuse in the community seriously. Australia has effective systems, through the commission and other bodies for dealing with racism. These reflect a genuine commitment to eliminate racism.” His predecessor, Tim Soutphommasane, now a Professor of Practice at the University of Sydney, said the commissioner should “lead and give voice to anti-racism in Australia”. “That is the expectation every friend of racial equality and human rights has of the office,” he said. Asians and indigenous Australians have had to watch as television shows like Border Security deliberately depict Asians as “dirty people” bringing in “foul food” – mind you, they are normal delicacies in the countries they are from – and the deaths of hundreds of first Australians or Aboriginal people in police custody. Australia’s ally the US has seen disenfranchisement felt by its largest racial minority group flare up as African-Americans in recent weeks pushed back against racial inequality and police brutality through Black Lives Matter protests. So it is completely disheartening to now see a geopolitical clash further reduce the social pandemic of racism into political sound bites used by each country to shame and defeat the other. More worryingly, the watering down of racism by politicians and so-called respected individuals of countries like the US and Australia can be used by right-wing extremists to justify potentially more dangerous assaults against innocent Chinese and Asian people living there. On Friday a local report in Australia confirmed a rise in right-wing anti-China activity. It all suggests politicians do not care about their people as they wrestle for power, ego and world domination. Racism, human rights and the people they serve have become disposable items for their own selfish advantage. To that, I say, stop it.