Threats to Asian Communities in North America, Europe, and Oceania

Posted: 2nd June 2021
Threats to Asian Communities in North America, Europe, and Oceania


Editor’s Note: The following post is an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.

To honor Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month, Insikt Group researched threats directed toward Asians living within North America, Europe, and Oceania, including influence operation campaigns, physical threats, and cyber threats directed toward the Asian community. This research aims to raise awareness for the Asian community and examine the increased racism Asians have faced since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Executive Summary

Asian communities in North America, Europe, and Oceania have been heavily affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and reports of discrimination toward and violence against Asian individuals and Asian-owned businesses have increased since January 2020. Anti-Asian narratives, racist terminology, and xenophobia have been used by public figures and mainstream media and are evidenced by the rise of anti-Asian sentiment observed since December 2019 and increasing through the first few months of 2021. These narratives have also been amplified by foreign media to exacerbate divisions between minority groups or to promote anti-Western narratives (as identified in reporting from Chinese media outlets). Scammers and other cybercriminals have also taken this opportunity to exploit public support for Asian businesses by defrauding altruistic individuals looking to support initiatives such as social fundraising campaigns.

Key Judgments

  • The COVID-19 pandemic is likely the primary driver of increased violence, hate speech, and harassment against people of Asian heritage, but national security narratives are also generating suspicion, particularly towards those of Chinese heritage who are living in the United States (US), the United Kingdom (UK), or Australia. Together, these factors are isolating AAPI communities within North America, Europe, and Oceania.
  • Increasing coverage from 2019 through 2021 in mainstream media of PRC espionage tactics has led to overgeneralization and misunderstanding of this threat, generating suspicion.
  • Russia has used state-sponsored media outlets and covert influence operations to amplify narratives in mainstream and social media that the rise in violence and hate against Asian people in Western countries was a product of systemic racism and was perpetuated by other minorities in an effort to sow division.
  • China also used state-sponsored media to amplify anti-Asian attitudes, sentiment, and violence, particularly in the US, as a means to deflect criticism of the PRC’s own human rights record. Asian communities faced fewer cyber-related threats than other minority groups studied by Insikt Group; however, Asian communities did see a marked increase in digital abuse and online harassment, particularly on underground forums. Digital abuse and online harassment was often associated with commentary intended to polarize marginalized communities and incite physical attacks toward those of Asian heritage.
  • Scams targeting Asian communities primarily involved charitable donations intended to help individuals who needed medical care after being physically attacked in high-profile cases.

Editor’s Note: This post was an excerpt of a full report. To read the entire analysis, click here to download the report as a PDF.