Interview with Chair of Covid19 Anti-Racism Group (CARG)

Dr Yeow Poon

ME: Dr Yeow Poon, you have been the Chair of the Chinese Community Centre in Birmingham since 1995, founded the England China Business Forum in 2013 and are also a trustee of the Chinese Welfare Trust national charity. Why was it necessary to set up the Covid19 Anti-Racism Action Group (CARG)?

YP: The spread of COVID-19 in the UK has led to an increase in racism and hate crime towards British Chinese, East and Southeast Asians. Incidents ranged from children being taunted in schools to international students being violently attacked. The insistence of some political leaders and media commentators calling COVID-19 the Chinese virus, and attempts to deflect blame to China, has also further inflamed racism. CARG was set up to counter these negative narratives in the media.

ME: As of today, COVID-19 has infected nearly 2m people globally, and the UK is in lockdown with over 10,000 deaths. Why would the British public be concerned with the rise in hate crime against the Chinese and East Asian communities?

YP: Hate crime towards any community should never be tolerated. COVID-19 does not discriminate ethnically. On the frontline in the NHS, in care homes and the community, we are working together to combat and mitigate the effects of COVID-19. These selfless acts by individuals from diverse backgrounds should be applauded. Also, the many examples of mutual help and research collaboration between the UK and China should be encouraged and strengthened.

ME: What does Covid19 Action group hope to achieve and what are its plans for countering racism and hate crime in the UK?

YP: CARG aims to counter COVID-19 stories in the media that encourage racism towards British Chinese, East and South Asian people, including international students. Afterwards, when the pandemic is over, CARG will collaborate with others to tackle broader, systemic racism in the UK. Leaders co-signed the first press release in early April in Chinese community associations, restaurateurs, artists, media and political parties (

ME: I haven’t mentioned that you are also the current Chair of Chinese LibDem (CLD) and the Chair of Policy in West Midlands LibDem. Would you like to add any particular message to our LibDem colleagues and friends?

YP: I first met Paddy Ashdown in 2010 when I had the honour of sitting beside him during a CLD dinner function. Paddy was the Patron of CLD since its formation in 2006. I asked him what liberal democracy is. He replied with three words – liberty, fairness and tolerance. Those three words persuaded me to join the party. Those three words define our common humanity and tell us how we as a party ought to bridge social, cultural and economic divides in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic and other socio-economic ills.

* Merlene was co-founder of Chinese Liberal Democrats and on the executive of the LibDems Overseas. She co-edited “Rise of China – Fresh Insights and Observations” published by the Paddy Ashdown Forum (2021)

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  • Michael Bukola 15th Apr '20 - 7:24pm

    Racism is a hate crime and is utterly appalling and everyone within our Party will always condemn such acts accordingly. The British Chinese, East and South Asian communities are more responsible for COVID-19 than anyone else. Everyone should be afforded the same level of respect and compassion during these unprecedented times. By the same token, African and other Black migrants residing in China and India should not suffer racial discrimination by the Chinese or Indian authorities by banning them from public places. Racial tropes are being allowed to steer public opinion in those Countries and should be called out and should not be tolerated.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 15th Apr '20 - 7:45pm

    Merlene, a very constructive piece, though we ought to also while in full agreement, praise Yoew, obviously, but acknowledge Michael here.

    Where China is responsible we condemn that government, not their population. Where Trump fails, we do likewise, he, not his people, the target of criticism.

    China, in step with totalitarian ideology, fails, regularly, in step with awfully outdated animal welfare, fails in practices we must condemn. The government covered this up, the worst pandemic in decades, cannot be ignored, with its causes the consideration that is a priority. Chinese people we know, suffered, more as a result, of bad government initially.

    Racist attitudes are held by ignorant people, warped, racist attacking of people, is by evil criminals, always.

    We condemn that regardless. We support Yoew thus.

  • Michael Bukola 15th Apr '20 - 8:32pm

    @CJWilliams Great spot. Typo

  • jayne mansfield 15th Apr '20 - 9:34pm

    Dr Yeow Poon,

    Dr Poon, whilst I am and have always been an antiracist and I abhor the behaviour of less educated , frightened people , I have to say that Coronavirus does discriminate, or at least according to current data.

    There is an issue of infection and outcome for men as opposed to women. There is an issue ( when it comes to health care personnel ) . It cannot be ignored that those who have bravely put themselves on the frontline , some coming out of retirement to do so ,are disproportionately from ethnic minorities.

    The reason for this may be genetic, diabetes, hypertension , or it may be that it is because of the racism that was already within our society prior to the pandemic, The disproportionate number of people in low paid occupations, care workers etc . Or in the case of doctors, despite their seniority, whether they felt secure and confident enough to demand WHO recommended PPE.

    Whilst people of Chinese origin are experiencing the brunt of those whose fear leads them to show an already underlying hostility to immigrants, there is an issue about people coming to Britain from parts of the world where there is Coronavirus , whether that be parts of `China, Italy, New York, should have been stopped, to prevental Coronavirus seeding in our communities.

    The wise basics of infection control appear to me to have been ignored by our government test, isolate, contact tracing.

    It takes a dumb, incompetent racist of Donald Trump proportions, with his ‘Chinese Virus” to feed the racist narrative. For example, that of CJ Williams, who fails to notice that many individuals of Chinese ethnicity, or South Asian ethnic backgrounds have never set foot outside Britain , nor have their families and friends.

    It never fails to surprise me, that Liberal Democrats also seek to pigeon hole people as members of a ‘community’, rather than acknowledging them as individuals worthy of treatment as such. Belonging to a ‘Community’, like stereotyping has become a lazy way of making wrong minded assumptions about individuals.

  • Jayne
    “stereotyping has become a lazy way of making wrong minded assumptions about individuals.”
    Plenty of that in the Labour Party regarding the Jews.

  • Micheal
    McDonald’s China said that it had closed a restaurant in Guangzhou for a half day of diversity and inclusion training Sunday after an investigation confirmed social media reports that it was barring black customers. “We apologize unreservedly to the individual and our customers. The restaurant has been ordered to stop immediately such actions,” McDonald’s China said Monday.

  • John Marriott 16th Apr '20 - 7:41am

    When this nightmare ends and we have a vaccine to control this virus (whether it or the mutations thereof ever disappear completely is debatable) we really have got to learn lessons if we are to avoid another pandemic and save our planet in the process.

    First of all, let’s be honest about how Covid-19 started – and we can be fairly certain that it did originate in China. While in no way wishing to tar all of this nation’s inhabitants with the same brush, had the Chinese government fessed up at the beginning, we might not be where we are today.

    Clearly the interface between live animals and humans must be reexamined. ‘Wet markets’ need to go and the hunting and eating of exotic species needs to be discouraged if not banned altogether. Air travel and, dare I say it, activities such as cruising, need to be moderated. Goods need to be produced and/or manufactured more nearer to, if not always at home. Why SHOULD seemingly nearly everything be made in China? If the product costs a little more, so be it.

    What this present crisis ought to have taught us is to value life, both at its beginning, it’s middle and particularly at its end. As the old saying goes; “Health is better than wealth”. This probably means a little more control and conformity in our lives. I know that this will offend libertarians; but I could live with that. It certainly needs us to recalibrate our priorities. You know, it just may be the wake up call we all need. The phrase “life may never be the same again” may this time be true.

    As usual, my wife and I will be outside our house tonight supporting the real heroes of this crisis and my wife will venture out later today to do the shopping and to pick up our repeat prescriptions. Oh, by the way, our local friendly Co Op pharmacist is a young man from Hong Kong.

  • Re John Marriott and his wife obtaining their shop.
    For the first time in a month I ventured out to the Asda “Superstore” last night got there about 20.30 hours, up to now limited to the odd Cop visit and my daughter doing our main shop. No queue, only about 20 max in the store. The shelves were well stacked and I got 90% of my wifes’ list, took advantage of getting more than one of each item. Only obstacle was the doorman, there to marshal queues, who was obviously feeling redundant and who would insist on being pleasant and speaking. Clearly bored.
    On the way back tried Tesco, just after 21.00, still a small queue there about 6 deep. So I left it. My consumer research suggests Tesco more popular than Asda!
    Just as a rider. Oil on my Vauxhall getting low, needs Dexos1 Gen 2, not easy to get. Tried everywhere last week. Amazon advert said they could supply. Took 5 working days, the oil came from Barcelona, in 48 hours but was held over Easter in a store in Staffordshire. Delivered first thing Tuesday morning. You can grumble about the manner Amazon are said to treat their staff, but I cannot complain about the service.

  • Regarding wet markets lets ban factory farming which also poses a threat to health. Better still lets become vegetarians.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 16th Apr '20 - 1:23pm

    Thanks for that very good remark, Merlene.

    A very sensible contribution from John Marriot, terrific from Manfarang, vegetarianism, rules ok!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • @Lorenzo. But being a good liberal you will respect my right to a good steak !

  • Hi everybody. Thank you for your comments and feedback.
    CARG as a cross-party group will develop its strategies and campaigns. Whether it will amount to anything remains to be seen as it is currently only 2 weeks old! However, Chinese Lib Dem (CLD) would like to work with others within the Lib Dem family, as we are painfully aware that within Chinese society there is racism too, which needs to be tackled. I have contacted Michael Bukola regarding how CLD might collaborate with the Lib Dem Campaign for Race Equality. Post Covid-19, I agree that priorities have to change and hopefully there will be changes for the better.

  • Rodney Watts 16th Apr '20 - 10:16pm

    @Merlene & Dr Yeow Poon
    I am particularly saddened by this piece, as it tells of a current appalling situation and brings back mixed memories of 25 years, starting in 1959, as student, researcher, youth & community worker and teacher in Birmingham. It was a time when I became involved in anti-apartheid, race relations and prejudice when the main issue was colour. There was not a hint though of hostility towards Chinese or Jews. The passion for equality and human rights has remained a lifetime.

    I was fortunate for most of my undergrad days to share accomodation at MIH, Selly Park which had residents from about 10 countries, including Chinese, one of whom was a room mate for a time and another who taught me to play table tennis with penholder grip! I also have fond memories of interacting with members of Birmingham’s Chinese Community and it grieves me to think that any are being abused.

    @ Michael & Lorenzo have rightfully raised concerns of racism internationally. One fellow student’s father had been incarcerated for some time with Nelson Mandela, and another was many years later to be tasked by Nelson to reorganise higher education post apartheid. Yet another became Desmond Tutu’s mentor in London. Being ethnically Jewish, it therefore pains me to see the apartheid state that Israel has become (@ Merlene –a case in point for LibDems Overseas)

    @Manfarang , you picked up on @Jayne Mansfield’s comment regarding communities and stereotyping (which IMHO I dont think is a fair criticsm of LibDems), and applied it to the Labour Party and Jews. I am not sure I quite see what you mean exactly. However, if you are referring to the alleged anti-Semitism , I have always known it to be a weaponisation, being used by the Labour Right and Zionists against Corbyn. An 860 page report leaked last week to Sky News documents a whole lot of disgraceful factional actions, mainly carried out by staffers, but benefiting the likes of Starmer. If you Google ‘Starmer Report’ there is plenty of info. Agree so much though with what else you’ve said about animals. I support ‘Compassion in World Farming’

    @Jayne You have misread @CJ Williams’ comment and therefore not correct what you written

  • Combatting anti-Asian racism that has grown from is a good thing.

    What is not a good thing is implicitly suggesting that the Chinese government should be above criticism in the pursuit of this.

    The Chinese government:
    -Imprisoned a doctor for alerting the public
    -Lied to the WHO and the rest of the world regarding the severity of it.
    -Leaned on the WHO to the extent that the WHO was pleading on China’s behalf not to close borders with China
    -Has been selling faulty goods to the rest of the world at a profit in their fights to contain the disease, including about a million tests to the UK government that didn’t work.

    So it would be good to find a way to tackle racism against Asians that has come out of this without looking like apologists for the Chinese government.

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