By Dexter Roberts
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 â€œthree illegals,â€ 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. â€œAll citizens are encouraged to provide leads or report cases,â€ the notice said.
And top Chinese Internet sites Baidu (BIDU) and the Twitter-like microblogging site Sina Weibo (â€œweiboâ€ is the Chinese word used for microblog) launched a campaign â€œcalling on Internet users to expose bad behavior by foreigners in China,â€ according to a report on the Peopleâ€™s Daily Online English website on May 18. â€œForeign scumbags should go back to their countries. China is not the place for them to do everything they want,â€ the report quoted microblogger â€œyuxiaoleâ€ 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 netizensâ€™ 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 orchestraâ€™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, Chinaâ€™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 â€œforeign trashâ€; 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. Chinaâ€™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 â€œblack prisonsâ€ for those Chinese who travel to Beijing to petition the government about their grievances.