Chinese and East Asian Communities: Racism during Covid-19

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 4:39 pm on 13th October 2020.

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Photo of Catherine West Catherine West Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 4:39 pm, 13th October 2020

May I say what a delight it is to serve for the first time under your chairmanship, Mrs Cummins, and how great it is to have a rugby league champion in the Chair?

That was a powerful speech by my hon. Friend Sarah Owen, who found the time and the passion to secure the debate. It is fitting that the debate is taking place this week, not just because it is looking at hate crime but in the context of the Black Lives Matter movement.

In the last couple of years we can all admit that bigotry has been emboldened, whether against the Jewish community, Muslim communities or the East Asian community here in the UK, who are the subject of today’s debate. This is not just about the UK; we have heard first hand from my hon. Friend about her experiences, but we know that the issue goes across many different cultures. She mentioned Mr Trump, and I want to touch on the background to the current trade war between China and the US. There are legitimate issues to be debated about trade and commerce, but that must never be confused with racism against Chinese people.

Some of the debate turns into the “Chinese Communist party.” We know that some Chinese people based in the People’s Republic of China do not have a choice about whether they are party members or not. It is not good enough to say the “Chinese Communist party”—we should just say “the Government”, in the same way that we might criticise another Government for other things. My hon. Friend mentioned some of the issues we are currently worried about in the People’s Republic of China—about Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet—but equally we need to talk today about the fact that many East Asians are under so much pressure.

I was delighted to go and see the chairman of our local mental health trust, Mr Mark Lam, an experienced computer technician at the height of his career who is giving his time and energy to lead the mental health trust at a challenging time. As a result of covid, there is a 20% increase in demand. At the end of the meeting I said that I was going to participate in today’s debate. He said that he has experienced anti-Chinese feeling a number of times. Many Chinese people in our communities, when they are asked, say that they have experienced a terrible sense of discrimination.

I am afraid it is not just words. There have been physical attacks, spitting, trying to run people over and a number of very violent and despicable acts. Today is our opportunity in Parliament to say that we do not stand for it, that we want equality and that we want the bigotry to stop.

My second point is about the lack of role models. I would love to see more Chinese people in our media, being our anchors and newsreaders, and in our soaps. Our soaps do an amazing job; I am thinking about “Hollyoaks,” as we have some Liverpudlians with us today. They tackle difficult social issues and I wonder whether this might be something for one of our dramas to take up, to try to challenge views and teach our community in a real way, showing the hurt and how the issue is holding back community cohesion.

My final point is about the local picture. One of the terrible results of the global financial crash was the cuts to local government. Local government used to provide a small amount of funding for a number of different services—a meals on wheels service or a day centre, for example. It was a way of mixing everyone up—“Come and have a meal together. Come and have a game of mah-jong or chess. Let’s talk to each other and get to know each other.”

Since the cutbacks to local government, I have noticed how lonely people are and how they are not experiencing the fun things about their neighbours. They are not trying each other’s food or going shopping as much. It is heartbreaking to see older people in particular sitting on their own outside a supermarket or in a café, when they could be with other people and getting to know one another.

I hope that some of the money coming out of the Treasury now can go towards local government and community cohesion and, in particular, that we will look at ways within the political parties to promote role models. We obviously have a role model here, in my hon. Friend Alan Mak is a Minister in the Government, I believe. I am sure that there are others whom I have not remembered today. We have a few councillors, but we should be looking much more carefully at how we in politics can promote role models. It is the way we learned about Black Lives Matter: by listening to others. It is the way we have learned about racism against other Asian communities: by having role models in politics or other fields.

I hope that we can look not just at the geopolitics of covid and the role that important leaders such as the President of the US play. I hope that we can also look at the local picture, the fragmentation of our society, and the lack of services to bring people together. Finally, I hope that we can look at role models within politics so that we can promote diversity and in particular make a study of why we do not have more Chinese role models within our politics. I will conclude there because I am keen to hear other contributions. I thank everyone for taking part in the debate and I just wish a few more had joined us today from the Conservatives. Maybe next time.