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Labour MP calls on political leaders to speak out against anti-Chinese racism during coronavirus outbreak

Sarah Owen said Chinese New Year celebrations in London were 'muted' this year.

2 min read

Political leaders must speak out against a rise in anti-Chinese racism in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak, according to a Labour MP.

Sarah Owen said there had been a worrying rise in sinophobia since the disease first emerged in Wuhan.

The Luton North MP, who is chair of Chinese for Labour, said political leaders must "take a proactive stance against casual, sometimes unthinking, prejudices as well as racist attacks to ensure they do not continue".

Writing for anti-racist campaigners HOPE Not Hate, Ms Owen pointed to polling which showed that 54% of Brits believe that "China is to blame for the coronavirus".

"In everyday life there have been numerous reports of physical and verbal abuse of East Asian people, but sometimes it can be more subtle," she said.

"Weeks before the first reported corona case in the UK, I remember picking up a coffee from a busy Pret-A-Manger where every table was packed, except for the one with an East Asian woman sat on her own."

Ms Owen praised initiatives such as the #iwilleatwithyou campaign, which began in Australia and which encourages people not to boycott Chinese restaurants and takeaways.

But she said: "Sadly, shows of unity through social gatherings are no longer viable, and we need political leaders to take a proactive stance against casual, sometimes unthinking, prejudices as well as racist attacks to ensure they do not continue.

"Of course, in time we will need to look at the responses to the crisis by governments across the world, but we need to make it unequivocally clear that no ethnicity or nationality is responsible for, or is the source of, the virus.

"Covid-19 doesn’t discriminate, and this pandemic has caused pain, suffering and disruption across the globe – and the world is united in the fight against it.

"The British Chinese and East Asian community are as worried for the wellbeing of ourselves, our families, our neighbours and our society as everyone else, but they have an additional fear – that of racist attacks, prejudice and social shunning.

"In this new world of social distancing, we need to find new ways of showing solidarity with each other but even a friendly smile can make a big difference.

"When we look around at the many people getting us through this difficult time – the NHS staff, the neighbours, the scientists – let us remember they will have come from all corners of the world – including China."

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