Biden bans linking COVID-19 to China in bid to quell racist backlash in US

Teddy Ng, South China Morning Post

Posted at Jan 27 2021 09:05 PM

US President Joe Biden has banned references to Covid-19 by geographical location, after labels like “China virus” and “Wuhan virus” led to a racist backlash.

“Inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric has put Asian-American and Pacific Islander persons, families, communities and businesses at risk,” Biden said in a memorandum released on Tuesday.

“The federal government must recognise that it has played a role in furthering these xenophobic sentiments through the actions of political leaders, including references to the Covid-19 pandemic by the geographic location of its origin,” he said.

“Such statements have stoked unfounded fears and perpetuated stigma about Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders and have contributed to increasing rates of bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI persons.”

The memo said executive departments and agencies would ensure that official actions, documents and statements “do not exhibit or contribute to racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders”.

No political leaders were named in the memo, but Biden’s predecessor Donald Trump repeatedly used terms like “Wuhan virus”, “China plague” and “kung flu” to describe the disease caused by the new coronavirus.

One week after testing positive for the coronavirus last year, Trump said he was “in very good shape” and that “I beat this crazy, horrible China virus”. He heard earlier said China would “pay a big price” for the pandemic.

These descriptors were blamed for a rise in attacks and abuse targeting minority communities in the US.

In the memo, Biden pointed out that 2 million Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders worked as health care providers and in other supporting roles, contributing to the effort to stop the spread of Covid-19 in the US.

Asian-Americans reported more than 2,600 hate incidents in just a few months last year, compared with a few hundred in most years going back to 1999, said Aryani Ong, an Asian-American rights activist and former civil rights lawyer.

Trump’s descriptions of the pandemic were furiously rejected by Beijing, which denied his allegation that the coronavirus might have emerged from a lab in Wuhan. 

Earlier this month, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Washington’s narrative – put forward by former secretary of state Mike Pompeo – was “full of fallacies” and “madness”.

China is also recasting the coronavirus narrative, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi suggesting the pandemic was likely to have been caused by separate outbreaks in multiple places around the world.

Chinese diplomats have promoted unfounded theories linking the virus to US military athletes, while state media has reported the virus could have entered China through imported frozen foods, following cases in Chinese ports and among cold storage workers.

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