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Anti-Asian: Discrimination in 2020/21 - why we need to stand up and be counted

Updated: Feb 21, 2021

In this thought-provoking analysis by the Red Circle Advisory team, we explore the scale of the problem of discrimination, the need for change and the steps to achieve change.

Embracing cultural intelligence and nurturing cultural intelligence is the pathway to peace and prosperity for nations and peoples seeking to make the most of the Asian Century.

This is clear and self-evident and yet we find much of the Western world receding into a paradigm of fear, prejudice and racism that is directly contrary to the road to peace and prosperity.

"The world is multicultural and businesses that actively embrace diversity will do better. This requires education and training.

There’s no time like the present. As they say, buy when the crowd is selling and sell when the crowd is buying. Racism is on the rise at the moment (as you'll see below), so tackling racism is the smart and right thing to do."

Contextualising the 'economics' of our region

RCEP (Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership) includes 15 countries: 10 from ASEAN (Association of South East Asian Nations) plus Australia, Japan, the Republic of Korea (ROK) and New Zealand. China makes up 54% of the RCEP GDP (Gross Domestic Product); Japan 19%; ROK 6%; Australia 6%. China is the largest trading partner of all RCEP countries. Intra-RCEP trade is set to boom.

RCEP’s (and ASEAN’s) prosperity depends on strengthening trade, investment and people ties. This requires tolerance of difference and the management of friction. Emotional Intelligence (EI) and Cultural Intelligence (CI) are central to negotiating consensus in diverse settings."

EI + CI = prerequisite to make the most of the RCEP opportunity and the Asian century.



Recently, organisations from Australia, New Zealand and the United States have released data on discrimination against people of Asian heritage within their own borders.





Each organisation has presented poignant facts that draw our attention to how well we are doing at our cross-cultural intelligence at the political influence and community impact level.


In New Zealand, the Human Rights Commission commissioned Nielsen to conduct research and then published a report entitled 'Racism and Xenophobia Experiences in Aotearoa New Zealand during COVID-19: A Focus On Chinese and Asian Communities' (PDF of full report).

The data, collected in August 2020, shows a rise in discrimination against Maori, Chinese, Pasifika and the broader Asian communities. Although the percentage of respondents reporting racism is lower for Chinese than for Maori, the personal impact experienced by Chinese New Zealanders is the biggest.

Key findings

  • 54% of Chinese New Zealanders experienced discrimination since the start of COVID-19

  • 37% of Chinese respondents experienced more discrimination since the outbreak than before (more than 2x the number of other respondents reporting an increase)

  • 75% of Chinese respondents felt that living in Aotearoa gave them a "sense of belonging and freedom to express their identity", compared with 82% of all respondents. Among Chinese people born in New Zealand, the number is just 56%

  • Only 69% of New Zealand-born Chinese respondents agreed that they belong in Aotearoa (lower than Chinese people born overseas)

Of all groups surveyed, Chinese New Zealanders responded with the greatest concerns for their personal safety.

These concerns led to:

  • feeling self-conscious in public due to worries about how others might perceive them,

  • concerns about their safety due to blaming of certain groups

  • worries about how their children and/or other family members might be treated.

In turn, Chinese New Zealanders changed their behaviour, including

  • keeping distance from others deliberately when out in public,

  • choosing to stay at home

  • reducing outings and social activities

  • not wearing a mask in public

  • staying away from people of other ethnic groups

Human Rights Commissioner Meng Foon says,

"No one should have to change their behaviour to avoid risking discrimination, made to feel they don't belong, worry about their public safety, or experience negative mental wellbeing because of discrimination or racism."

"Everyone deserves to be treated well, to live in a safe community, free from discrimination, and to live a life of dignity."

For further context, it's a rough time of year for many Chinese New Zealanders, The Chinese New Year is here, it has been a hard year and for many, their extended families aren't here to celebrate with them. This is leading to a spike in calls to counselling helplines. Racial discrimination just adds to the problem.

More coverage of the Human Rights Commission Report:


The Australian Human Rights Commission has not undertaken the comprehensive research of its NZ colleagues, but their website does present an article by Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan, decrying the lack of data recording and monitoring racism.

One of the few measures available on the trends in racist behaviour is the number of complaints laid with the Commission under the Racial Discrimination Act.

"But although our statistics are truthful and accurate," says Mr. Tan, "they do not tell the full story of what is happening in the community."

"Nor do they illustrate the sustained spike in racism that has been widely observed. This is because the Commission’s data only captures complaints it receives that allege a breach of the Racial Discrimination Act, and the volume of these is fairly small in statistical terms."

The Asian Australian Alliance advocacy network is providing Asian Australians a method to report racial incidents, including those that don't constitute breaches of the Racial Discrimination Act. The Alliance is still collecting data and has not yet published survey data.

The Scanlon Foundation, an organisation dedicated to "see Australia advance as a welcoming, prosperous and cohesive nation," published the 2020 Social Cohesion report into the attitudes of Australians towards issues like Immigration.

  • 84% of respondents agreed that multiculturalism was good for Australia (but...)

  • 47% of respondents had negative feelings towards Chinese Australians.

  • 59% of respondents born in an Asian country thought racism was a "very big problem" or "fairly big problem" in Australia

  • 39% said they had experienced discrimination

A follow-up "in-language" survey of Chinese Australians found that a high number declined to answer if they had suffered negative experiences.

"This could be a result explained in terms of culture," said Emeritus Professor Andrew Markus, "that Chinese Australians do not want to cause waves, they do not want to draw attention to themselves."

Media coverage:

Chairman of the Red Circle Advisory Board, Duncan Calder, reiterates this. He has been asked by many Chinese communities on several occasions to attend community engagement sessions with the Dept of Home Affairs to voice their concerns on behalf of their members, who are intimidated to speak out.

“One Chinese lawyer thanked me for “expressing his thoughts” on the increasing abuse; he wanted to do so but was fearful that he would be ostracised and targeted by ASIO and mainstream media as a 'stooge’ of the Communist Party of China (CPC), even though he is a 3rd generation Australian!"


I am a 5th-generation Australian and 4 generations of my family experienced the White Australia Policy. Despite facing societal discrimination and restrictive immigration policies, Australians of Chinese descent have made a substantial contribution to the culture and history of the country.


The Chinese forced from the gold mines were very good at farming the land and helped develop market gardens and agriculture in Australia. Other industries that the Chinese developed were the fishing industries, tobacco farming, laundries, cabinetmaking, drapery, emporium stores, tea houses, import trade, banana farming and furniture making. Our dry, hot and humid land was similar to southern China, so the Chinese were better skilled at adapting to the land. Europeans were used to a much colder climate without the exhausting humidity and grew different crops to what could be grown here efficiently.


The White Australia policy is a term encapsulating a set of historical racial policies that aimed to forbid people of non-European ethnic origin, especially Asians and Pacific Islanders, from immigrating to Australia, starting in 1901. (Source: Wikipedia). In 1973 the White Australia policy was abolished by Gough Whitlam, who was also the first Australian Prime Minister to go to China. From that point on we developed a strong relationship and built up trade. This trade helped us get through the Global Financial Crisis. China in the last couple of decades has grown exponentially with clear 5, 10 and 100 year plans. 450 million people have been lifted out of poverty and 800 million people out of extreme poverty. There has be a strong emphasis on building trade routes which started in 130BC with the start of the Silk Road. The Silk Road is now being refashioned as The Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), and includes 64 countries with approximately 3 billion people with clear infrastructure projects and free trade. This has increased the growth, wealth and adaptation to new technologies and finance for countries which we previously thought of as third world.


Australia has the opportunity to be a more meaningful participant and benefit from growth trade, investment and person to person flows, if we make a concerted effort to understand the rapid change that is taking place and position ourselves as equal innovators. Unfortunately, instead of embracing a massive opportunity we are fearful of this change. This has not been helped by the USA-China Trade war. We too have been dragged down a path that will damage our economic recovery by creating fear and misunderstanding through false media stories and many non-diverse committees that hold endless meetings with members that do not represent the stakeholders. We are a country of over 200 nationalities and yet you do not see multicultural faces in politics and the nation's think tanks. Racism in the last year towards Chinese people has grown increasingly with the number of false media stories targeting innocent Chinese people. These people are Australian citizens working, paying taxes and contributing to the economy. Their mental health, family and businesses have been majorly affected. The Department of Foreign Affairs publishes yearly the International investment by other countries into Australia and consistentlythe UK and the USA are number 1 and 2. China is number 9 (at less than 10% of each of the USA and UK) and yet the media is constantly reporting damaging stories that the Chinese are buying up everything, leading to more racist undertones in the community.


People may say "what about the tariffs imposed by China?", but the thing to think about is why have tariffs been imposed? My friend was in Shanghai expecting some beef from Australia and when it arrived the cut of meat did not match what was written on the label. In Australia this is called misrepresentation and is the first thing taught in Contract Law. Treasury Wines insisted on distributors taking cheaper wines when the distributors ordered more expensive and very popular Penfolds labels. This led to a glut of cheap Treasury wines in China. Effectively, Penfolds made it more difficult for other Australian wine makers to enter the market. These are some of the stories that haven’t been widely told but have again caused the community to have racist reactions. It seems as if the forty plus years of building good relationships is quickly evaporating.


Chinese Australians still experience being told to "Go Home”. We can not go back to where we were before. We are Australians now. Four generations of my family can not have gone through so much suffering for no reason. Our economic recovery cannot be dashed because of fear, cultural misunderstandings and racism.

The answer to global challenges and ensuring a positive economic recovery is collaboration and cultural understanding. It enriches our lives and creates wealth for all Australians. We can not tolerate racism, if we seek the betterment of our country.


Discrimination against Asian-Americans has grown particularly at the beginning of 2021, with a number of high profile incidents.

In the first months of 2021:

What started the hate?

San Francisco State University professor Russell Jeung draws a straight line between the words of leaders, and the resulting hate crimes.

"When President Trump began and insisted on using the term 'China virus,' we saw that hate speech really led to hate violence." said Jeung. "That sort of political rhetoric and that sort of anti-Asian climate has continued to this day."

Professor Jeung is chair of the Asian American studies department at SFSU. He also created a tool that tracks hate incidents against Asian American Pacific Islander communities, called the Stop AAPI Hate tracker.


On February 9, Stop AAPI Hate released data showing

  • 2808 firsthand accounts of anti-Asian hate from 47 states and the District of Columbia between March 19, 2020 and December 31, 2020,

  • 126 reported accounts of anti-Asian hate involving Asian Americans over 60 years old

Types of assault:

  • Physical 8.7%

  • Coughing/spitting 6.4%

  • Verbal harrassment 70.9%

  • Shunning/avoidance 21.4%

Media coverage:


Why are Asian people in Western countries being discriminated against?

While little research exists on the motivations of individual attackers, due to our extensive network of over 100 of the world's leading Asia culture and commerce advisors, we are able to extrapolate the environments from which attacks come.

These environmental factors include:

Controversy around COVID-19's origins, fanned by Trump in the USA and Morrison in Australia. This controversy has in turn led to outright blame of China and Chinese people.

Deterioration in the relationship between China and the USA and other Western nations. This deterioration started occurring before COVID-19 with Huawei and other Chinese tech firms being denied access to the USA, UK, New Zealand, Australia and others.

Red Circle Network Advisory Position on Technology in New Zealand - we are a leading-edge technology company, familiar with both Western and Chinese technology, including backend security, having advised on projects including Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain, Cryptocurrency, SaaS (Software as a Service), and PaaS (Platform as a Service). We were working with Chinese clients at the time of the GCSB attacks on Chinese New Zealand companies. The GCSB's behaviour resulted in the decimation of very important infrastructure that was going to support New Zealand education and healthcare projects that would have had a substantial benefit to New Zealanders. These companies were cooperating openly and responsibly within New Zealand law and required compliance practices. The end result being that GCSB's behaviour caused significant hardships for Chinese New Zealanders that worked for these companies.

Red Circle Network Advisory Position on Technology in Australia - Similarly we have also witnessed ASIO make similar accusations about Chinese technology and the Australian government has caused significant deterioration of the Australia-China trade relationship, then blamed China after Australia has incited the anger of China. There are plenty of countries that have significant technology superiority to Australia who have a very good relationship with Chinese technology. The owner of Red Circle Network, a New Zealand-based company, which is committed to Australia, has lectured to over 30,000 people with over 1.6 million views of his articles on technology. Glyn MacLean earned Attache software recognition through his work on transformation of the Australian accounting industry, best Cloud Software in the Australian Business Awards 2014. So as a network, when we talk about technology, we know more than the government. We can say this because we advised the New Zealand government on how to leverage a technology to teach Chinese New Zealanders how to use the New Zealand voting system. Red Circle Network has a pedigree of both understanding the best practice use of technologies, and working with governments and other organisations to safely and securely deploy that technology while upholding human rights and democracy.

Red Circle Network Position on Technology in the USA - The proposed bans on WeChat and Tiktok, originally due to come into force in December 2019, are now "in abeyance" while the new administration revisits whether these apps really pose a threat.

What the American position indicates is that President Trump's perspective was extreme, and President Biden is seeking to repeal many of the decisions that Trump made from his extreme position. Where that leaves Australia, is that Australia is now increasingly isolated in its stridency with one of the most extreme positions of any country in its policy towards China.

What we are showing here is that President Biden is not adopting the position or aggressive diplomatic language and tone of Australia. Indeed, Australia stands almost entirely alone in its extreme position, and is causing some of the highest rates of prejudice through its position. It is clear from the global community that a more moderate position is appropriate.

The "Insecurity Industry" (also called the China Threat Industry) is a network of organisations that receive funding to spread an anti-multicultural agenda. Particularly the Australian government has been taking its cues from these ostensibly racist think tanks. Despite all evidence to the contrary, these think tanks are presenting unbalanced reports to the Australian government, which are rubber stamped without verification by most of our media. This has led to the Australian government taking what has become an isolated approach to foreign policy, whereas we have feedback from our worldwide network of advisors that many regions and countries who often have far more challenging histories with China yet have have a very different relationship with China, based on a very different set of information.

Biased media reporting on China. An example of a recent incident of bias is where the ABC accused a Chinese man of being a Chinese spy. This was taken to Australian court as a defamation case, and the Chinese gentleman won the case. Even after being proven in court to not be a Chinese spy, the ABC still tried to come after the Chinese man and accuse him of spying. We have direct feedback from famous Chinese people in countries around the world that have experienced the same thing. They have been accused of being a Chinese spy and have had to defend their reputation as committed citizens within their country. This racial profiling and prejudice is without merit, and very damaging to the community. It is un-Australian and beneath us as a country.

Historical precedent. The "Yellow Peril" is, unfortunately, nothing new. Shocking incidences of institutionalised racism have occurred in the past for the United States, Australia and New Zealand. A hangover of British colonialism has been a sense of superiority and entitlement, expressed through a feudalism and warfare that belongs to the past. The advent of globalisation has brought multiple cultures into communication, and there is an urgent need for people and organisations at every level of our society to develop skills at cultural intelligence.



In the face of such alarming statistics, it is encouraging to see President Biden leading the way to mitigate and remediate discrimination against Asian people in the United States, by:


It is the expressed view of Red Circle Network Advisory that leaders' words are powerful and far-reaching in terms of their effect on the mood of our communities.

President Biden has quickly taken the lead to confront racism in North America.

It is also the view of Red Circle Network that the incumbent Australian leadership ought to take its cues from President Biden and from Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern regarding embracing multiculturalism (we refer back to the fact that 84% of Australians want a multicultural Australia). So the vast majority of Australians want a multicultural society, however racial prejudice is being promoted and fuelled by Australia's leaders in politics and media. This must not be allowed to continue unchallenged.

Our view is that this is inappropriate both based on the facts and the context of the approach of other nations. In terms of our suggestions for resolving this issue, we highly recommend that Australian organisations invest in developing internal organisational capability for multiculturalism. This will take the form of education and training in Cultural Intelligence.

This report was devised and commissioned by Red Circle Network Founder Glyn MacLean and developed with the expert guidance of Duncan Calder, Chair of the Advisory Board, with a select group of leading Australian cross-cultural and commercial experts including Adjunct Professor Warwick Powell and Debby Lo-Dean. Research and writing by Simon Young, Head of Advisory.

Many of the narratives from within this report have been curated from our Asia Advisory Network of over 100 Advisors, and incorporates feedback that we have received through Clubhouse, Zoom, Red Circle Talks LiveStream TV and Podcast, and feedback from our global expert community.

We would also like to thank all of the individuals who have contributed to our knowledge base through the Collaborative Action Group, an informal thinktank of Australian leading cross-cultural intellectuals:

With special recognition of YingYing Li from Yingfluence Inc for her leadership in teaching a new generation of multicultural advisors for Cross-Cultural Intelligence.

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