Is it racism to criticize China, or freedom of speech? Rising racial discrimination against Asians has sparked a debate on the issue in Australia. However, whether people have the freedom to criticize China or not is not a problem. The issue is, in Australia, there are smears and rumors against China, and Canberra has been an active part of them.
A recent case is Australian artist Luke Cornish’s recent exhibit in Canberra. According to the South China Morning Post, some of Cornish’s works, including showing late chairman Mao Zedong dressed as Batman, have triggered backlash from some Chinese students. Cornish later admitted that the Batman piece, which indicates conspiracy theories about the origins of the COVID-19 pandemic, could be perceived as discriminating and he apologized. Yet, he questioned the removal of two other exhibits related to Uygurs in Xinjiang and China’s social credit system.
Some Australian analysts said that similar acts of withdrawing works critical of China’s policies forget “the importance of freedom of speech” and are meant to “appease Beijing.”
But can freedom of speech be used as a shield to spreading rumors? Any defamation should be condemned and held accountable. This is common sense. Even though perception on China has worsened in Australian society due to bilateral tensions, leading to more criticism against China, there is still a clear boundary between information and disinformation.
A disinformation campaign launched by some Western media and elites, including conspiracy theory that COVID-19 originated in China and China’s governance in Xinjiang is “genocide,” are groundless rumors. The World Health Organization-China investigation has suggested broader probe on virus origins in more countries after their probe in China, yet Australia joined the US and 13 other countries to question the WHO report. And their claim of “genocide” in Xinjiang is also nonsense since local people have lived a peaceful and prosperous life, thanks to Xinjiang’s governance.
Australia is condoning the instigation of hatred and hostility against Chinese people by letting these rumors spread unchecked. Like in the US, racism is also deeply rooted in Australia and can be traced to the White Australia Policy in the 20th century.
Some people argue that criticizing the Chinese government is not the same as attacking Chinese people or Asians. But just look at the actual consequences: During the COVID-19 pandemic, the term “Chinese virus” has made many Chinese students in Australia suffer from verbal or physical abuse. They were even attacked for simply wearing masks.
Canberra has to admit that the discrimination and violence experienced by Chinese people in Australia is real. Some Western elites try to use so-called freedom of speech to justify their badmouthing China, while at the same time, they claim that none of this is aimed at Chinese people and they are against racism. This seems very hypocritical and ridiculous.
Some in Australia regard anti-China as political correctness, and the disguise of freedom of speech does not justify this. When the Australian government is taking the lead in ignoring, condoning or even inciting hatred against Chinese and other Asians, those empty anti-racism slogans and demonstrations will only prove the hypocrisy of Australian politics.