Trump under fire for calling Covid-19 "Chinese virus"


  • China
  • Monday, 23 Mar 2020

US President Donald Trump speaks during a news conference, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Washington DC, March 22, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

As the coronavirus continues to spread in the United States, the Trump administration is fielding criticism from some public health officials, politicians and Asian Americans for labeling the illness a "Chinese virus", a term that experts argued is inaccurate and has led to increased incidents of racist attacks against Asians of different ethnicities.

"The president of the United States, and other White House officials, using the term 'Chinese virus', or 'Kung-Flu', or 'Wuhan virus', we believe is inciting and provoking this anti-Asian sentiment and is really responsible in the rise of these more violent acts," said Cynthia Choi, co-executive director of Chinese for Affirmative Action, a community-based civil rights organization in San Francisco.

"He's refusing to call it by its correct medical name, which is COVID-19, or the coronavirus. He's refusing to do that, even after it was called to his attention that this is harming and endangering the lives of Asian Americans," she added.

As of Sunday, 201 deaths and over 15,200 cases had been reported in the US, according to the World Health Organization.

In response to the increasingly frequent harassment resulting from the coronavirus, Choi's organization, along with the Asian Pacific Policy & Planning Council and the San Francisco State University's Asian American Studies Department, have launched a reporting center to track cases of discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders throughout the country.

The center opened on Thursday, and by Friday, it had already received 60 reports of cases from community members on the site, Choi said.

One of the cases involves a 12-year-old Asian American boy in the San Fernando Valley in Los Angeles, who was so badly beaten by middle school classmates that he had to visit the hospital emergency room.

Another case occurred just a few days ago. It revolved around a Chinese woman who found herself accosted on the street by a stranger who cursed at her and blamed her for bringing the coronavirus to the US.

On March 14, a man from Myanmar and his young son were two of four people stabbed by a man at a grocery store in Midland, Texas. Although this case still warrants further investigation, Choi said she found out through her network that racism and coronavirus motivated the attack.

"We are starting to see a pattern that individuals who might not appear to be likely to defend themselves, or unable to defend themselves, are being targeted. We are seeing all kinds of racially derogatory comments being made toward people," she added.

The violence has spiraled so out of hand that David Liu, the owner of Arcadia Firearm & Safety in San Gabriel Valley, an area with a high concentration of Chinese immigrants, said gun sales at his store were 10 times the usual amount in the past three weeks, with many customers buying firearms to protect themselves against possible racial attacks and fear of social disorder caused by the coronavirus.

Trump defended his use of the term on Wednesday, saying "it's not racist at all", he told reporters. "It comes from China, that is why."

However, cases of a strange, severe pneumonia were witnessed last November in Italy before the world even became aware of the COVID-19 outbreak in China, said Giuseppe Remuzzi, an Italian physician.

In an interview with National Public Radio, Remuzzi said some family doctors told him that they had seen the pneumonia, particularly in old people, in December and even in November.

"It means that the virus was circulating at least in Lombardy before we were aware of this outbreak occurring in China."

Meanwhile, such terms have elicited a chorus of criticism from public figures, including former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, who argued that Trump is using racist rhetoric to distract from his administration's delay in preparing the country for the pandemic.

"The president is turning to racist rhetoric to distract from his failures to take the coronavirus seriously early on, make tests widely available, and adequately prepare the country for a period of crisis. Don't fall for it. Don't let your friends and families fall for it," she wrote on her Twitter account on Wednesday.

Analysts outside the US also believe that Trump's intentional use of the racist term is to distract the US public from the wide criticism of his missteps in his early denial of the seriousness of the pandemic. Now with the stock market gains of the past three years totally wiped out, he is eager to play the blame game, especially in a presidential election year.

Shada Islam, director of Europe and Geopolitics of Friends of Europe, a think tank in Brussels, Belgium, said at times of crisis like the one the world is living through, it is time for leaders and people to come together and work together to tackle the challenge, not exchange insults, accusations and engage in conspiracy theories.

"It is a tragedy that US-China tensions, dating back to US President Donald Trump's arrival at the White House, are further complicating global cooperation to surmount the pandemic," she said.

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that the use of the name COVID-19 is to prevent the use of other names that can be inaccurate or stigmatizing. He and other WHO leaders have repeatedly warned against stigmatization in the past two months.

Scott Kennedy, a China expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told The New York Times that the use of such terms "can't but be interpreted as xenophobic and tinged with racist overtones", given the Trump administration's long record of statements and actions on immigration, immigrants and issues of race.

Comedian Joe Wong and basketball player Jeremy Lin took to social media to speak up against the recent waves of harassment targeting Asian people.

"My AsAm friends told me last year, 'I know it's scary but as long as you stay in the two coasts (in the US), you are fine.' Now Asians are being assaulted in NYC, LA, London, and Australia. Asians have been enduring racism and now it's downright brutality," Wong wrote on Twitter.

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