As the coronavirus has reached every continent except Antarctica, including all 50 states in the US and 50 countries in Europe, according to European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control, it is clear that COVID-19 is on a round – the-world ticket, arriving in different destinations at different times and then making itself at home. WHO has identified it as a global pandemic with a designation, according to established principles, that does not ascribe the virus to any nation or region.
However, sadly, that has not stopped President Donald Trump from referring to COVID-19 as "the Chinese virus" which is not only inappropriate but essentially racist and could stir up discriminatory behaviour against people and businesses from China and other Asian nations. Many authorities have been quick to condemn this action, including UNESCO that tweeted "Kind reminder: viruses have no nationality". Even the CDC Director for the US called the action "absolutely wrong and inappropriate".
So, why is Trump behaving this way? One explanation is that it is part of a wide-ranging policy to undermine China as reflected in the recent decision to expel many Chinese media employees from the US, to make unsupported accusations against Huawei, to impose tariffs on imports from China, to interfere in Chinese domestic affairs whether in Hong Kong, Xinjiang or Taiwan and the list goes on. These policies, which seem to have bi-partisan support in US politics, are designed to paint China as a threat to the US which its citizens need protection from and President Trump as the tough leader to "stand up to China". Although I expected that some in the US administration would be sad at the impact on Chinese people of the heroic battle against COVID-19, there were some who saw this epidemic as a sign that the US economy was moving forward while China's economy was faltering, with even the Wall Street Journal making the repulsive claim that China was "the Sick Man of Asia".
In fact, the economic outcome looks like being very different, with China having got on top of the outbreak, able to restart the economy and likely to have more normal performance from April onwards. The dark cloud comes from the upcoming weakness in Western economies now struggling with the contagion which will impact on China's export markets. It is the US economy which is threatened with recession and stock markets have now fallen to such levels that all the gains since the start of the Trump presidency have been obliterated. Thus, the second reason for Trump's insulting terminology – to place the blame for American's economic crisis on China as it "sent the virus".
The reality is that COVID-19 will cause huge strains on the US economy and many others, but the slow response to the threat of the pandemic has been a significant factor. Records show that China informed the US of the existence of a new virus on Jan 3 and that gave the Trump administration a lot of time to prepare for it. We are all aware that Trump initially told the American people nearly two months later that the virus would go away, that it was a Democrat hoax and the US was well-prepared for it.
Yet when it finally landed, the US had few testing kits, shortages of masks and no clear guidelines on how to contain it, based on Chinese experience including the need for social distancing, hygiene protocols and ultimately staying home. Now Trump has moved to a war footing to beat the virus, declaring a national emergency and, along with the Federal Reserve, implementing a massive economic stimulus.
Americans will see that the economy that the administration was so proud of is becoming sick, so the president needs to ensure voters understand that the virus is the cause and in no way his fault. In doing this, he feels he needs to shift the blame to China. This is ironic at a time that China has been reaching out with help to contain the virus with assistance to many countries, including France, Iran, Italy, Pakistan, the Philippines, Serbia and Spain, providing a range of needed items varying from test kits and masks through to ventilators and teams of Chinese medical experts.
The coronavirus is attacking the whole world and we need to be one army fighting it together – the virus is the enemy and we should all be allies in this battle.
Colin Speakman is an economist and an international educator with CAPA: The Global Education Network.
The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.