The Communist Party of China, through its foreign ministry and propaganda arms, vocally objected on Tuesday to President Donald Trump referring to the Chinese coronavirus, originating in the central city of Wuhan, as “the Chinese Virus,” claiming that doing so was “racist.”
Trump used the term in a series of messages on Twitter – a medium the Communist Party has banned Chinese people from using – announcing measures to support the U.S. economy while most businesses are forced to shut down to prevent the virus from spreading. The Wuhan virus is believed to be highly contagious and can be deadly in older people and people with pre-existing conditions, causing fatal pneumonia.
“The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus,” Trump said. “We will be stronger than ever before!”
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!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 16, 2020
The most recent study on the origins of the virus identified the first human diagnosis of infection to have occurred in Wuhan on November 17, 2019. China made its discovery of a new coronavirus public on January 20, 2020. In the two months before that announcement, Communist Party officials in Wuhan allowed mass gatherings and organized at least one attempt at holding the world’s largest banquet, inviting 130,000 people to sit and eat in close quarters.
China then allowed 5 million people to leave Wuhan and travel around the world for the Lunar New Year holiday.
Despite the clear origins of the virus in China, the Communist Party has insisted that it is not clear where the outbreak began. Chinese officials have accused the United States of creating the virus and using it in a biological attack on China, offering no evidence for this theory.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry responded to Trump’s message by complaining that it had “smeared China” by noting that the global pandemic currently underway began there.
“We call on the US to stop finger-pointing at China. The utmost priority is for the international community to cooperate on fighting the virus,” spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters during his regular briefing on Tuesday. “The US should focus on its top priority, and play a constructive role in international cooperation on health security.”
The Global Times, a Communist Party propaganda outlet, disparaged the reference to China in relation to a virus that originated in China as “reckless” and “racist.” In a story titled “Trump’s Racist Tweet Another Attempt to Deflect Blame,” the newspaper falsely claimed that “labeling a virus to reference to a country, region or people contradicts long-held principles of the World Health Organization (WHO)” and cited “experts” who called references to China by U.S. officials a “serious diplomatic fiasco.”
The WHO move to stop naming viruses after their places of origin – a common practice that has resulted in names like Ebola, Zika, Spanish flu, Middle East Respiratory Disease (MERS), and others – occurred only in 2015, and triggered significant criticism from medical experts and virologists who worried that the new names would confuse laymen.
“It will certainly lead to boring names and a lot of confusion,” Linfa Wang, an expert on emerging infectious diseases at the Australian Animal Health Laboratory, said at the time.
Last month, Indonesian officials claimed they had not documented any cases of Chinese coronavirus because a patient had tested positive for “SARS-CoV-2,” but not “COVID-19.” The former is the official name of the virus; the latter the name of the disease it causes.
The People’s Daily did not address existing cases of confusion caused by the WHO’s insistence of divorcing the Chinese virus from China.
“By concealing his country’s domestic conflicts within an external crisis and by exploiting racial conflicts to hide its domestic problems, such as poor management in epidemic prevention and control and an economic downturn, Trump is using China as a scapegoat,” one of the Chinese government’s approved “experts,” Dong Chunlin, told the newspaper.
Another Global Times column accused Trump of having committed “an act of inability and irresponsibility, as he wants to make Americans to blame China and cover his administration’s terrible response to the predictable outbreak.”
“Where the virus had come from should be a topic for science rather than politics, and by arrogantly provoking China at this juncture, the situation that the US and many other countries are being confronted with will get worse,” the Global Times claimed, “especially the stock market, as the two biggest economies of the world could see a new conflict amid a pandemic that has already brought serious harm to the world economy, analysts warned.”
The column then threatened to limit access to vital drugs for which China controls the supply chain, killing “innocent Americans.”
“It should go without saying that his tweet was wrong, as it equates the Chinese people with a disease and makes China a punching bag,” the People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, declared in a separate article Tuesday. The propaganda newspaper then claimed that Trump’s remarks “triggered many ugly comments full of racism and conspiracy.”
The People’s Daily also shared comments allegedly from Chinese users of Weibo, the government-approved microblogging platform, condemning Trump’s tweet. It did not explain how these users saw the tweet, given that China has banned anyone within its borders from reading Twitter.
Chinese officials and propaganda outlets similarly condemned Secretary of State Mike Pompeo last week for referring to the novel coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus.”
“I’m happy about the efforts that they have taken, but no less authority than the Chinese Communist Party said it came from Wuhan. So don’t take Mike Pompeo’s word for it,” Pompeo said, responding to Beijing’s criticism. Beijing has since begun claiming without evidence that the U.S. Army created the virus in Maryland.
The Global Times nonetheless disparaged Pompeo as “ridiculous,” “morally irresponsible,” and “rude.”