The Ministry of Justice’s release last week of statistics on criminality among Chinese who enter the country legally was a puzzling move.
On Friday, the ministry released a report on crimes committed by Chinese, saying there were too many cases involving Chinese nationals for prosecutors and police to handle. The report, which sounded more like a Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) press release, seemed to warn the government off seeking to increase the number of Chinese visitors. Of those Chinese nationals who have entered the country legally, around 26,000 have committed crimes in the last four years alone, the ministry said.
“The negative effect on social order of Chinese committing crimes in Taiwan deserves a high level of attention,” it said.
The report also mentioned that some Chinese nationals in Taiwan might be sent by Beijing on spying missions, with obvious consequences for national security.
At the same time, the statistics show, only 56 Chinese nationals are behind bars in Taiwan.
Although the ministry’s intent was perhaps to inform the government, releasing crime statistics singling out Chinese nationals seemed designed to scare the public at a time when many have high hopes for the economic benefits of pursuing greater cross-strait links. We can expect these statistics to become fuel for the arguments of those who have suggested that opening up to cross-strait tourism could result in a surge in violent crime.
Unfortunately, when crime statistics single out one group, they are easily manipulated. In this case, by discussing the rate of crime among Chinese nationals without including the broader context, the ministry could be perpetuating fears and prejudices about ordinary Chinese people.
The ministry release would seem to imply, for example, that resources at police stations and prosecutors’ offices are overextended because of the presence of Chinese.
Politicians and the media alike often manipulate the public’s fears, which although rooted in legitimate concerns — such as public safety and public health — tend on occasion to exceed the limits of rationality.
That was clear when the Centers for Disease Control, just hours after the arrival of the first cross-strait charter flights, announced that there were no indications that the Chinese visitors were carrying any diseases. An announcement intended to allay public concern can easily have the opposite effect of implying that there is every reason to worry, propagating the idea that Chinese are in fact walking health hazards.
Tainan City Bureau of Health Director Hu Shu-chen (胡淑貞) typified the ridiculousness — and offensiveness — of these fears last month when she suggested the city “disinfect the places where Chinese tourists have passed through.”
Equally offensive was the DPP’s presidential campaign ads depicting the Chinese as uneducated and dirty, with one ad implying that opening up to China would lead to Chinese men urinating in the streets. The ads sought to manipulate voters’ worst fears and prejudices about China to scare them into choosing the DPP on March 22.
The discussion of positive and negative effects of pursuing increased cultural and economic links with China should take the form of a rational, non-alarmist debate. Government officials and agencies have a particular responsibility to present meaningful information in a manner that avoids fueling discriminatory aspects of the discourse.