On January 30 a senior US official claimed in an interview that “the viral outbreak in China could offer upside to the US economy by encouraging manufacturers to move back to America.”
For several weeks, from January through early March, US president Donald Trump downplayed the likely consequences of the coronavirus, presenting it as a minor nuisance and exaggerating the federal government’s response, even as Alex Azar, the Secretary of Health and Human Services declared a public-health emergncy and travel restrictions to and from China on January 31.
Casting the virus “foreign” was not a simple rhetorical flourish. According to the database website Factbase, the president used the expression “Chinese virus” more than 20 times between March 16 and March 30. The deliberateness of the wording was made clear when a photographer captured the script of his speech wherein Trump had crossed out the word “Corona” and replaced it with “Chinese,” according an Conversation.com oped.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused China of putting the world at risk for its lack of transparency, even scrapping a joint G7 statement after its members refused to refer to the virus as the “Wuhan virus.”
These baffling statements came at a time when China was battling deadly virus, and the entire Trump administration was out to single it out for misplaced and unfounded motives instead of preparing for the worst. US officials went into this China-focused criticism despite the fact that Bejing began to regularly notify the World Health Organization (WHO) and other nations including the US of its outbreak information and containment measures from January 3.
US officials appeared to be in a denial mode even until mid March 17, when Trump once again referred to China virus in a tweet; 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!
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang responded strongly by saying that “some US politicians have tried to stigmatise China … which China strongly condemns….we urge the US to stop this despicable practice. We are very angry and strongly oppose it [the tweet].”
Even the World Health Organization has been advising against terms that link the virus to China or the city of Wuhan, where it was first detected, in order to avoid discrimination or stigmatization. No surprise therefore that Trump also took an adverse view of the WHO, and declared on April 14 to suspend its funding for the WHO.
Ironically, led by President Trump, most officials under him and Republican politicians had probably hoped to “block” the virus spread just by just apportioning the blame on Wuhan.
But the consequences have been staggering; 2.11 million infections and nearly 117,000 deaths as of June 12, with the COVID19 having ravaged New York the most.
Although the president promised to stop reference to China by March 24 in a Fox News TV interview, it had dawned on all US officials that they had a big calamity at hand and that merely holding a particular country responsible for that wont help them.
Even scapegoating the World Health Organization (WHO) for the virus in the US failed to convince the world.
Even Christopher Hill, a former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs, criticized the US government for the “buck-passing attitude.”
This was not incorrect either; certain American politicians also instigated some media to call the coronavirus “China virus” and “Wuhan virus” and labeled China’s anti-virus cooperation with the world as “diplomatic campaign” or “propaganda initiative.” They also insinuated that China had covered up its epidemic situation and falsified data, and even made absurd arguments that the virus came from a Chinese lab and China should make compensation.
One big lesson that we all should draw from the covid19 crisis – as witnessed in USA, Brazil, Russia, India and Pakistan, is that pandemics know now borders and that they require trans-border cooperation instead of finger-pointing. Political rhetoric in one country will never be able to stop adverse winds – calamity, pandemic – from outside. Cooperation can, nevertheless, help in prevention and protection.
This article first appeared in Matrix Mag and is being reproduced under a special arrangement. Click here to go to the original.