An epidemic of racism has proliferated across the globe since the recent outbreak of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), reanimating long-standing fear of China as a place of disease and source of threat. This revival of racism has been predictably prominent in Australia, where Sinophobia remains a constitutive discourse of nationalist exclusion. As the number of new infections continues to rise, what should have been acknowledged and treated as a humanitarian crisis has instead provided the occasion for a deepening of everyday race-thinking, ethnonationalism and border ideology. COVID-19 has tapped seamlessly into Australia’s racial anxieties about China. Drawing on historical and contemporary media sources, as well as on first-hand testimonies from international students, this talk explores the evolving “China threat” discourse and its everyday impacts, situating the current outbreak narrative within a wider history and politics of Sinophobia in Australia.
By probing what lies at the heart of the racialized discourse, this talk ventures
an alternative approach to thinking and talking about China, one that centres on the
ideal of a radical humanism that has yet to come.