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WASHINGTON — In a press conference on Wednesday morning, President Trump defended his efforts to brand the coronavirus epidemic as a specifically Chinese disease. Although it did originate there, Trump’s critics have said blaming China for the outbreak is xenophobic and racist.
“Why do you keep calling this the Chinese virus?” a reporter asked him during a briefing with the White House coronavirus task force. The reporter noted that there has been a rise of racist incidents, some of them violent, against people of Asian origin across the United States.
Although Trump has struck a more conciliatory tone in the last few days, praising Democratic leaders including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Beijing remains more foe than friend in the battle with the coronavirus.
“It’s not racist at all,” Trump said in defending his and his allies’ use of terms like “the Chinese virus” and “the Wuhan virus,” a reference to the city where it originated. “It comes from China, that’s why,” the president continued. “It comes from China. I want to be accurate.”
Since the first cases were reported in China in December, the coronavirus infected some 80,000 people before moving on to Europe, where it is currently spreading with deadly aggression in countries such as Italy and Spain. China has successfully contained the outbreak within its own borders, but it hid the severity of the epidemic in its critical early stages, when its spread could have been contained.
“I think they could have given us a lot earlier notice,” Trump said in response to another question, though he rejected the notion that China is “inflicting” the coronavirus on the United States.
Beijing has also promoted conspiracy theories that include blaming members of the U.S. military for causing the pandemic, something that clearly displeases Trump. “That can’t happen,” he said of that allegation. “It’s not going to happen. Not as long as I am president.”
He then repeated that “it comes from China.”
The comments came a day after China expelled American journalists for outlets like the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, signaling a renewal of tensions that have flared and subsided since Trump took office. Most of those tensions have had to do with trade, but the coronavirus has introduced a new, unpredictable factor into the geopolitical equation.
“I’m not happy to see it,” Trump said of the expulsions. He has himself sometimes branded journalists “enemies of the people,” but he has praised media coverage of his handling of the coronavirus response as mostly fair.
Later in the Wednesday briefing, Trump was asked by another reporter about allegations that a White House staffer had called the coronavirus “the kung flu.” Trump professed not to know who used that term but said such terminology did not put Asian-Americans at greater peril of racist backlash.
“I think they would agree with it 100 percent,” Trump said of his placing the blame on China. “It comes from China. There’s nothing not to agree [with].”
Allies of the president have said similar things, albeit in different ways. “China hid this virus for months and allowed their people to fly with it,” wrote Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., on Twitter. “China doesn’t have a right to be outraged or offended, and they should pay a price.”
The message was commenting on a Washington Post op-ed that blamed China for disseminating disinformation about the coronavirus.
Trump himself took to Twitter on Wednesday morning to discuss the coronavirus, to which he invariably referred with the “Chinese” label. “The onslaught of the Chinese Virus is not your fault!” he wrote in one tweet.
“Will be stronger than ever!”
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