17/03/2020 2:14 PM IST | Updated 17/03/2020 4:35 PM IST

China Reacts To Trump's Racist Tweet As Both Countries Blame The Other For Coronavirus

An expert explains how Trump's 'Chinese virus' tweet adds fuel to an already fraught situation in the US where American-Chinese people have been targeted verbally and their businesses affected.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a press briefing with the coronavirus task force, in the Brady press briefing room at the White House, Monday, March 16, 2020.

Just a month after praising China for its handing of the COVID-19 outbreak, U.S. President Donald Trump has sent out a racist tweet terming the coronavirus as “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!” the President tweeted

His tweet sparked outrage, with New York mayor Bill de Blasio saying that the “Asian American communities are already suffering. They don’t need you fueling more bigotry”.

Trump’s allies including Republican senators, as AFP pointed out, had previously referred to the pandemic as the “Chinese coronavirus”. But the President’s tweet marks the first time he has said it himself.

Both the United States and China have been trying to deflect criticism over their handling of the crisis on each other, sometimes through racism, as with Trump, or through conspiracy theories.

Media outlets in China slammed Trump, with state-run tabloid Global Times quoting “Chinese experts” as saying that referring to COVID-19 as “Chinese virus” showed that Trump wanted to ensure Americans blamed China rather than his administration’s inept handling of the outbreak.

There have been over 4,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 60 deaths in the US. The Trump administration has been criticised for responding slowly to the crisis and only carrying out a small number of tests.

Trump also wants to to bank on racism for covering up his inability to resolve panic in the US stock market, Global Times added.

China’s state-run People’s Daily, also said that Trump’s tweet was “wrong, as it equates the Chinese people with a disease and makes China a punching bag.”

Rise in racism

The United States’ Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has warned against the social stigma that could be displayed towards people, places or things as a fallout of the virus outbreak. One of the ways stigma and discrimination can occur is when people associate a disease, such as COVID-19, with a population or nationality, even though not everyone in that population or from that region is specifically at risk for the disease, it said. 

Jabin Thomas Jacob, associate professor at the Department of International Relations and Governance Studies of Shiv Nadar University (SNU), told HuffPost India that Trump’s racist tweet adds fuel to an already fraught situation in the US, where American-Chinese people have been targeted verbally and their businesses affected.

“Easy racial stereotyping is never far from the surface in any society and the American one is no exception,” he said.

The Atlantic reported on how, as the coronavirus spread, racist attacks at Asians increased. “Since the outbreak of the coronavirus (and the disease it causes, COVID-19) began, reports of racism toward East Asian communities have grown apace,” it said. 

A Singapore student studying in London was allegedly attacked on 24 February. He told the BBC that he was assaulted by a group of four men and one of the men who kicked him said, “I don’t want your coronavirus in my country”. 

The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, also called on member states last month to fight discrimination. “The coronavirus epidemic has set off a disturbing wave of prejudice against people of Chinese and East Asian ethnicity, and I call on member states to do their utmost to combat this and other forms of discrimination,” she told a session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva. 

Time has a detailed copy on how harmful stereotypes and racism are spreading around the coronavirus. Read here

Pointing fingers

HuffPost US’s George Zornick also highlighted the hypocrisy of Trump’s tweet.

“For weeks beginning in late January, Trump praised Chinese officials profusely for their response to the virus, even as some global observers were raising reasonable concerns about early Chinese efforts to downplay the severity of the crisis. Time and again, Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for his handling of the outbreak and even boasted of a U.S. partnership in helping China fight the virus — until Trump seemed to find a useful scapegoat,” he wrote. 

SNU’s Jacob told HuffPost India that he thought Trump, “uninformed though he was”, meant it when he initially praised Xi Jinping. He added that calling COVID-19 a “Chinese virus” was no doubt a reaction to official Chinese attempts to push the narrative that the virus was somehow introduced into China by the American military.

“Chinese leaders are trying to deflect blame at home from their own handling of the crisis and the Americans are not having any of it,” he said. 

China suggested last week that the U.S. military might have brought the coronavirus to Wuhan. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian promoted the theory, according to CNN, pointing to remarks made by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Robert Redfield. 

In the clip shared by Zhao Lijian, Redfield said some influenza deaths in the U.S. were later identified as cases of COVID-19. 

Zhao’s post, The New York Times pointed out, was most likely intended to deflect attention from China’s own missteps in the early weeks of the epidemic by sowing confusion or, at least, uncertainty at home and abroad.

It added that it  appeared to be a retort to similarly unsubstantiated theories about the origins of the outbreak that have spread in the United States. Julian B. Gewirtz, a scholar at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard, told The New York Times that “The conspiracy theories are a new, low front in what they clearly perceive as a global competition over the narrative of this crisis.”

(With inputs from Reuters)