In case there was any doubt that President Donald Trump is inciting racism by blaming China for the global coronavirus pandemic, and referring to the pathogen as “the Chinese virus,” one of his own aides made a racist joke to a Chinese-American reporter at the White House on Tuesday.
“This morning a White House official referred to Coronavirus as the ‘Kung-Flu’ to my face,” the CBS News correspondent Weijia Jiang reported on Twitter. “Makes me wonder what they’re calling it behind my back,” added Jiang, who was born in China but raised in West Virginia.
During a subsequent news conference, Trump defended his repeated use of the phrase “Chinese virus,” calling it a justified response to the promotion of a conspiracy theory, by Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, that the virus might have been introduced to China by an American soldier during the Military World Games in Wuhan, China, in October.
Asked if labelling the virus that way fuels the racist backlash against Asians already playing out, Trump denied that it did.
As he often does, the president absorbed this nativist talking point from his favorite television channel, Fox News. Last week, Tucker Carlson opened his show with a monologue seething with resentment at the idea that it was racist for him to call the pathogen “the Chinese Coronavirus.”
The opportunity to both blame China for the crisis and mock liberals for being offended at the racist overtones has led Fox to fill the airwaves with such language.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the term “Wuhan virus” in a recent appearance on “Fox and Friends,” the morning show Trump consumes religiously.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, the former presidential candidate, advised the White House and Fox News that a deadly infectious disease cannot be fought with bigotry.
I’ve said it once & I’ll say it again loud enough for the @WhiteHouse, @FoxNews, & everyone else to hear: coronavirus does not discriminate. Bigotry against people of Asian descent is unacceptable, un-American, & harmful to our COVID-19 response efforts.
— Elizabeth Warren (@SenWarren) March 17, 2020
Rep. Ted Lieu, a Democrat from California, and Sen. Tammy Duckworth, a Democrat from Illinois, also condemned Trump for stoking racism.
Dear @realDonaldTrump: There’s a difference between saying a virus came from China versus calling it a Chinese virus. Asian Americans have already been assaulted because of this type of rhetoric. Can you please stop this unnecessary language? We all need to work together. https://t.co/9p9SE7xBGv
— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) March 17, 2020
With Asians experiencing increased racism b/c of #COVID19, it’s simply irresponsible&wrong for Trump to stoke fear by calling it the “Chinese Virus.” Pandemics don’t care about race, ethnicity or anything else. We must do better. Be kind, wash your hands & #StayHealthy.
— Tammy Duckworth (@SenDuckworth) March 17, 2020
Fox also offered a platform, last month, to Sen. Tom Cotton, a Republican from Arkansas, who attacked Chinese officials struggling to contain the outbreak by floating the conspiracy theory that China might have created the virus as a biological weapon.
Last week, the spokesman for China’s foreign ministry responded by urging his Twitter followers to visit a fringe Canadian website which speculated the virus might have been created at an American biological weapons lab.
Amid the escalating tensions between China and the United States, China’s foreign ministry also withdrew the press credentials of American correspondents who report for The Washington Post, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday.