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Trump’s “Chinese virus” tweets draw backlash as Sino-US diplomatic spat escalates

By Xian Jiangnan (People's Daily Online)    18:47, March 18, 2020

US president Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his use of the phrase “Chinese Virus” after facing an angry backlash for using it to refer to COVID-19. (File photo/Xinhua)

US president Donald Trump on Tuesday defended his use of the phrase “Chinese Virus” after facing an angry backlash for using it to refer to COVID-19, escalating a Sino-US diplomatic spat amid the coronavirus epidemic.

(Screenshot from Donald Trump’s Twitter)

On Monday, Donald Trump issued a statement of support for various US industries, while using the offensive phrase “Chinese Virus”. “The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before!” he wrote.

On the same day, the same phrase appeared in another of Trump’s tweets: “… Some are being hit hard by the Chinese Virus, some are being hit practically not at all…”

Trump’s remarks immediately drew a backlash from the Chinese government and public. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang expressed indignation over Trump’s comments at a press briefing on Tuesday, stressing that “the US should get its domestic issues handled first.”

An online petition launched on the White House’s website on March 16. (Screenshot from the White House website)

Tens of thousands of people launched an official White House petition on March 16, demanding an apology from President Trump for naming COVID-19 “the Chinese Virus” in his latest tweet, “especially when the origin of COVID-19 is not scientifically definite yet.”

“Not only does his Twitter defiance go against science, it also causes hostility among Chinese and other races,” the petition read. As of press time, the petition had solicited over 44,000 signatures.

Trump’s tweet came days after Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said in his individual Twitter account that the virus might have been spread by the US army, which was later condemned by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who issued “strong US objections” on Monday in a phone call with top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi.

Echoing Pompeo, Trump fired back at the criticism he had received for using the term during a White House press briefing on Tuesday, claiming that China has been putting out false information and that the term he used was “a very accurate term”.

“China was putting out information, which was false, that our military gave this to them. That was false,” he said. “And rather than having an argument, I said I have to call it where it came from.”

The President also brushed off fears that using the term creates a stigma. “"I don't think so. I think saying that our military gave it to them creates a stigma," Trump said.

However, his use of the phrase drew massive criticism from US officials, with some noting that it was a mean-spirited distraction that only intensifies racism and xenophobia.

(Screenshot from California Rep. Ted Lieu’s Twitter)

California Rep. Ted Lieu, directly addressing the president, described the phrase as unnecessary, urging President Trump to stop this language as “Asian Americans have already been assaulted because of this type of rhetoric”. “We all need to work together,” he added.

New York Mayor Bill de Blasio also condemned the tweet, saying it was misplacing blame and fuelling prejudice.

“If you’re looking for someone to pin this crisis on, try the guy who made up a phony Google website or promised testing kits that he STILL hasn’t delivered,” he said. “Our Asian-American communities — people YOU serve — are already suffering. They don’t need you fueling more bigotry.”

Echoing de Blasio, Rep. Grace Meng of New York suggested that Trump was trying to deflect his incompetent handling of domestic problems. The racist rhetoric around the virus, Meng told NBC News, could potentially be a tactic in distracting from Trump’s mishandling of the situation, adding that it’s likely some officials are using China or Asian Americans as scapegoats “versus actually dealing with the problem at hand.”

(Screenshot from U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders’ Twitter)

Meanwhile, U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont accused the president and his allies of “stoking anti-Chinese bigotry”. “We cannot tolerate this kind of racism—especially at this moment. This crisis requires our political leadership to unite our country, not divide us up,” Sanders wrote.

Trump was not the first US politician to use racist language to describe COVID-19. Secretary of State Pompeo and Rep. Paul Gosar have called it the “Wuhan virus”, while House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy referred to COVID-19 as the "Chinese coronavirus" in a tweet last week.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has requested that the public stop linking the virus with any particular area or group, as it may hold a negative meaning for people and fuel stigmatizing attitudes.

Just as WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said, “There is a common enemy in this planet itself. We need to fight in unison. And the stigma, to be honest, is more dangerous than the virus itself.” 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Web editor: Xian Jiangnan, Bianji)

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