A man who gestured his finger at a Chinese woman in Auckland's Mission Bay found himself being videoed as the woman accused him of racism.

The woman, who asked to be called just "Annie", said she believed the man was angry at Chinese people because the coronavirus originated in China.

Race Relations Commissioner Meng Foon said people's fear about the virus "should never turn into racism or xenophobia".

"My call to action for New Zealanders has always been to 'be kind'," he said.

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"Since Covid-19, I am really glad that the Government has reiterated this message, but we also need Government and other leaders to explicitly say, 'don't be racist'."

Annie, 48, who owns a car dealership in Henderson, said she was sitting on a seat outside the public toilets at Mission Bay between 4pm and 5pm on Wednesday when a middle-aged European man wearing an open-necked martial arts jacket came up to her.

She was not wearing a mask or anything else that might have connected her to coronavirus.

"I was just sitting there enjoying the view, because it was going to be the lockdown," she said.

"Then the guy approached me and said to me, 'Are you Chinese?' I was thinking he needs some help, maybe translation or something, so I said yes, and then he literally gave me the finger.

"So I was really pissed off and I started to take the video and I was shouting to him. I was afraid that he really hated me because after he gave me the finger he said the f*** word."

A man in a martial arts jacket was caught on video after allegedly giving the finger to a Chinese woman, possibly because of coronavirus. Photo / Supplied
A man in a martial arts jacket was caught on video after allegedly giving the finger to a Chinese woman, possibly because of coronavirus. Photo / Supplied

On the video, she told him: "I'm Chinese, so what?"

"Are you New Zealand Chinese?" the man responded.

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When she said yes, he said: "Oh, okay, sorry, I'm very sorry."

"Why do you do that to me?" she insisted.

"Oh, because I thought you were Chinese," he replied.

"Yeah, I'm Chinese, so what?" Annie answered. "Yeah, I'm Chinese, that's my crime? You are from New Zealand, that means you are a criminal? So I'm Chinese, f*** me, right, that's what you said, why did you say that? Because I'm Chinese? Because I look Chinese?"

"Probably because you look Chinese," the man replied.

Later, Annie commented on a Chinese character on his martial arts jacket. The man said it was Japanese, not Chinese.

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"Japanese are good, Chinese are bad, that's your opinion?" Annie asked him.

"I'm not racist," he replied.

"You are racist," Annie told him. "Why did you do that to me?"

"Because one of the guys had a go at me last week and he was Chinese," the man replied.

But when Annie said he shouldn't blame all Chinese for what one person did, he finally said: "I'm sorry, I shouldn't, yeah. Not everybody, everyone's different, there's good and bad, I'm very sorry."

Meng Foon:
Meng Foon: "We also need Government and other leaders to explicitly say, 'don't be racist'." Photo / Audrey Young

Foon said the Human Rights Commission had received 28 complaints and enquiries about coronavirus so far – about half from people (mainly Chinese) who have had racist comments made to them, and half about issues such as homestay parents enquiring about their obligations or visiting rules for retirement homes.

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"On one hand, I am saddened by this video because I sense the frustrations and anxieties that have been caused by Covid-19," he said.

"I have always said that our fears should never turn into racism or xenophobia. Covid-19 does not discriminate. It is not right to turn our fear into anger towards Chinese, Asian or any other ethnic group.

"On the other hand, this video also shows, what can happen, when people have an informed conversation that challenges our fears and stereotypes. In this instance, the lady filming received an apology after the man become aware that his actions were harmful.

"I hope other New Zealanders can have similar logical discussions - before they escalate to arguments and harassment.

"I encourage all people to be kind and safe in their interactions. We are in unprecedented times and we all need to do our best."

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• Lockdown infoirmation: covid19.govt.nz.