Anti-Chinese posters at Melbourne universities tied to white supremacists

University students in Melbourne, Australia, on April 10, 2017.
University students in Melbourne, Australia, on April 10, 2017. PHOTO: NYTIMES

SYDNEY (NYTIMES) - Students at two Melbourne-area universities returned on July 24 for the first day of a new semester to find racist, anti-Chinese posters plastered on building signs and walls.

The posters, found at the University of Melbourne and Monash University, were in awkwardly worded Chinese and read: "Attention! This is a place that prohibits Chinese people to enter. Any offence is subject to prosecution or possible deportation."

The discovery of the posters comes as Australian schools have been absorbing an influx of students from mainland China and as the country is confronting concerns about Chinese interference in its political system and influence over its economy.

The posters found at the two universities included logos from the National Union of Students, the Chinese Student and Scholars Association at the University of Melbourne, and the Monash Chinese Student Association.

The posters were quickly removed and organisations at both universities whose logos were used issued a joint statement confirming they did not produce the posters.

"Our society has been maliciously slandered by these notices put up around the university campus and it has created a harmful and poisonous atmosphere for all students," the statement said.

The Antipodean Resistance, a white supremacist group that identifies itself as pro-Nazi, claimed responsibility for the posters on Twitter. The group's website contains anti-Chinese slurs and Nazi imagery.

Both universities said they had contacted the police and were starting investigations using closed-circuit television footage to try to determine who put up the posters.

"We are committed to maintaining and strengthening a vibrant, inclusive and respectful campus community in which diversity is recognised, valued and celebrated," the University of Melbourne said in a statement.

Monash University confirmed on Facebook that 23 posters had been found on its Clayton campus and called "any instance of racism abhorrent".

On Chinese social media platforms such as WeChat and Weibo, news of the posters garnered significant attention. Chinese state news media reported on the posters while highlighting a history of other anti-Chinese incidents in Australia.

An article on Australian Red Scarf, a popular website among young Chinese people in Australia, called on the Australian government to get involved in the matter. The article was viewed more than 17,000 times.

"We could have just laughed at these posters insulting China," it said. "But this has happened in the first week of the semester, and has brought shame on our student union - will you be able to put up with this?"

Ms Sophie Johnston, president of the National Union of Students, said the group had been in contact with student body presidents at universities across Australia to warn them in case similar episodes occurred.

"Those kinds of comments don't have any place on university campuses," she said, adding that most Australian students did not share such sentiment towards Chinese students.

It is not the first time the Antipodean Resistance has left racist material on campuses. In December, posters urging "Keep Australia White" were also found on buildings at the University of Melbourne.

The latest posters alarmed Chinese students studying at the University of Melbourne.

Ms Melinda Mengying Li, 23, who arrived in Melbourne two weeks ago to begin a master's degree in art curatorship, said the posters fed into a pattern of discrimination that Chinese people face worldwide.

"I felt enraged, thinking of how Chinese overseas communities have always been isolated, unjustly labelled and even attacked," she said. "I hoped on campus there could be an atmosphere of equality, mutual respect and mutual improvement."

Other students dismissed the posters as little more than the work of isolated amateurs.

University of Melbourne's branch of the Chinese Student and Scholars Association president Ruiqi Liu called the posters "laughable" and "childish".