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Chinese Lash Out at Foreigners Amid Turmoil|
By Dexter Roberts on May 21, 2012 Tweet Facebook LinkedIn Google Plus 37 Comments
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(Corrects the 14th paragraph to show that comments about Locke’s residence and limousine were from a microblogger that the Beijing Daily newspaper had reposted.)
A wave of anti-foreigner sentiment is washing over China. On May 15, the Beijing public security bureau launched a 100-day crackdown on illegal foreigners in China that will extend through August. The campaign will clean out the “three illegals,” the Beijing public security bureau announced on its official blog, with an accompanying clenched fist, an image used regularly for anti-crime campaigns. Foreigners that illegally enter, live, or work in China will be targeted, the notice explained, providing a tip hotline. “All citizens are encouraged to provide leads or report cases,” the notice said.
And top Chinese Internet sites Baidu (BIDU) and the Twitter-like microblogging site Sina Weibo (“weibo” is the Chinese word used for microblog) launched a campaign “calling on Internet users to expose bad behavior by foreigners in China,” according to a report on the People’s Daily Online English website on May 18. “Foreign ####s should go back to their countries. China is not the place for them to do everything they want,” the report quoted microblogger “yuxiaole” as writing.
The foreign-directed ill will seems in part due to a recent attempted sexual assault. On the night of May 8, a British national, in China on a tourist visa, was caught on a mobile phone camera in what appeared to be an attempt to molest a Chinese woman on a busy Beijing street. News of the incident went viral after it was posted on the Chinese Web. Separately, Chinese netizens’ anger flared when a Russian cellist who has played with the Beijing Symphony Orchestra was shown cursing a Chinese woman on a train, after she asked him to remove his feet from her seat. (He apologized for the incident on the orchestra’s Weibo account.)
The anti-foreign feeling and associated campaigns may be more than a reaction to illegal or boorish behavior, however. Last week, a top host for CCTV, China’s state-owned national television station, weighed in with comments on his blog that appear to support the public security campaign against law-breaking foreigners, but also referred to “foreign trash”; without citing specific examples, accused foreign residents of spying; and attacked an American journalist, Melissa Chan, who works for Qatar-based Al Jazeera and was recently kicked out of China, where she was a foreign correspondent.
That was the first time Beijing has expelled an accredited foreign reporter since 1998. China’s foreign ministry has refused to specify what Chan, who is now entering a journalism fellowship program at Stanford University, has done wrong despite repeated queries from other foreign journalists. Chan reported extensively on sensitive topics including land seizures and secret “black prisons” for those Chinese who travel to Beijing to petition the government about their grievances.
“We stress that everybody must abide by Chinese laws and regulations and must abide by their professional ethics,” said foreign ministry spokesperson Hong Lei on May 8 in response to a question about Chan’s expulsion. In Washington, State Department deputy spokesman Mark Toner said: “To our knowledge, she operated and reported in accordance with Chinese law, including regulations that permit foreign journalists to operate freely in China.”
“If this year was going swimmingly well, I don’t think the level of sensitivity would be as high,” says Patrick Chovanec, a business professor at Tsinghua University. “The fact that the economy is clearly in a downturn, that they are struggling with their options to cope with it, and that there are a number of social tensions coming to a head, it’s no surprise that this would give rise to a certain level of defensiveness, even a feeling of being under siege.” China’s economy grew by 8.1 percent in the first quarter, its slowest pace since 2009.
“The Public Security Bureau wants to clean out the foreign trash: To arrest foreign thugs and protect innocent girls, they need to concentrate on the disaster zones in Wudaokou [student district] and Sanlitun [nightlife district],” the fluent English-speaking host Yang Rui, who is known for his interviews with foreign businessmen, politicians, and academics on CCTV’s English channel current affairs show Dialogue, wrote on his Sina Weibo account on May 16.