«’my country first’ or ‘blame the foreigners’ political proclamations are dangerously counterproductive»

Trump’s slur against China earns global censure

By ZHANG YUNBI in London and CHEN YINGQUN in Beijing | CHINA DAILY | Updated: 2020-03-21 07:13

United States President Donald Trump’s recent labeling of the novel coronavirus pneumonia pandemic as originating from a « Chinese virus » has triggered widespread backlash from the international community.

Officials and commentators worldwide used words like « racist » and « xenophobic » to describe the term and said it is part of Washington’s attempt to shift blame to China for its delayed, inefficient response to the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Instead of terms such as « COVID-19 » or « coronavirus », the US top leader used the term in both his Wednesday and Thursday news conferences at the White House as well as in some recent tweets, and he publicly rejected reporters’ questions about whether the term was racist.

The World Health Organization gave the name COVID-19 to novel coronavirus pneumonia on Feb 11, when WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan said it was both for scientific purposes and also to « avoid a number of different stigmatizing or other forms of confusing names ».

US Democrats have slammed Trump and other Republicans for using « Chinese » or « Wuhan » when referring to the virus in public statements and social media posts.

Former US vice-president Joe Biden on Wednesday condemned Trump’s comments and urged him to « take responsibility » for his actions.

« Stop the xenophobic fearmongering. Be honest. Take responsibility. Do your job, » he wrote on Twitter.

Former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton also tweeted on Wednesday that Trump was attempting to distract people from his administration’s slow response to 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, » she tweeted. « Don’t fall for it. Don’t let your friends and family fall for it. »

The distinguished American economist Paul Krugman said in his New York Times column that the coronavirus outbreak should probably be referred to as the « Trump pandemic » as the US response to the virus has been « catastrophically slow and inadequate ».

Racism and blaming other people have been the defining features Trump have used during his presidency, he added.

Josep Borrell, high representative of the European Union for foreign affairs and security policy, said on Thursday that viruses don’t have a nationality and don’t care about borders.

« COVID-19 is not a Chinese virus, as the Spanish flu was not Spanish, » he tweeted. « We all face a massive threat that requires global cooperation and all of us working hand in hand. »

Sadiq Khan, mayor of London, said on Thursday: « COVID-19 is COVID-19. » He said trying to link a nation to the illness « is disgraceful. »

The term used by Trump is « the sort of language which leads to incitement and hatred toward people of Chinese origin », Khan said when answering questions from members of the London Assembly about the pandemic.

« We are a city which celebrates our diversity and we think it is a strength, not a weakness. It’s really important that we do not fall into the trap of some to use this virus as an excuse to denigrate, demean and humiliate people, » the mayor added.

Pascal Lamy, former director-general of the World Trade Organization, said that the COVID-19 crisis is testing first and foremost the resilience of national governance, as the capacity to fight the virus lies in the quality of health systems and in collective disciplines such as social distancing.

But there is also a second order international dimension in cooperation to provide medical equipment, liquidity for economies or signals for concerted action, Lamy said.

« In this respect, I very much agree with the WHO that ‘my country first’ or ‘blame the foreigners’ political proclamations are dangerously counterproductive, including when they target China, » he said.

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