By Sophie Mak
Over recent days, Donald Trump and his administration have publicly referred to the coronavirus, also known officially as Covid-19, as the “Chinese virus” or, even more provocatively, “kung-flu.” He has since rejected claims that his deliberate designations are racist as the virus indeed “comes from China.” The debate over whether to name a virus after a geographical location is quite unnecessary, as the World Health Organization has made it clear that their naming convensions help avoid spreading panic and discrimination. For Trump to insist on such “Chinese virus” after being met with objections from the Asian and Asian-American communities shows that the race factor is deliberately being played up to push certain agendas.
Many of my friends have publicly and gleefully stated their support for Trump’s rhetoric as it seemingly shows his strong opposition towards China— our “common enemy.” However, even though we may have what seems to be a “common enemy” in Beijing, we have nothing to gain and everything to lose from Trump’s narrative.
The US president is using a race-baiting tactic to generate controversy and media attention as a way to overshadow his utter failure in managing and controlling the virus. Looking at his Twitter account, he had referred to the outbreak as the “coronavirus” from January until March 15. But on March 16, the day of the massive outbreak in the US, his language suddenly changed and he has since been using his new preferred designation “Chinese virus” exclusively. One does not have to be a genius to realise that Trump is saying these things not to condemn China per se, he is doing this primarily to make himself feel better and to justify his own failed responses to the pandemic.
Any opposition to Trump’s narrative by no means suggests support for the Chinese government’s rhetoric. The Chinese Communist Party, of course, is also eager to play this “race game” with the Trump administration for the very same reason— to hopefully make the global population forget about their gross negligence, incompetence and managerial irresponsibility.
I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the “borders” from China – against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2020
As part of a population now bearing the brunt of the ensuing racism, it is hard to not feel attacked by Trump’s rhetoric and those who share the same ideology as him. As a collective, it is best we do not support him. It is understandable that given our hatred towards the Chinese government, we as Hong Kongers would wish to disassociate from the “Chinese identity.” “Hong Kong is not China,” as we kept informing any who cared during our protests over Beijing’s encroachment. However, at such a critical time, we have to understand that no one cares. Supporting and buying into such racist narratives exponentially increases the chances that East Asians, or anyone who looks or sounds vaguely Chinese, will get verbally or even physically attacked in a predominantly caucasian country.
One has to recognise the extent of the harassment an East Asian-looking person encounters during this time, especially in predominantly white countries like the UK or the US. Much of Trump’s narrative and the support he is receiving undoubtedly has further influenced and perpetrated the ideology that “Asians are virus-carriers” – this has emboldened closeted racists to become outwardly discriminative and hostile.
During the two months I have been in Australia, I have been loudly scoffed at for wearing a mask when I went out and I have seen people physically recoil when I tell them I am from Hong Kong. I have been harassed for taking up space and for “washing my hands for far too long,” whilst bus passengers have moved away when I sat next to them. One little cough generates alarm from those around me, whereas white people loudly cough in crowded buses and lecture rooms without compunction. But I hold my tongue, wary of any form of confrontation or escalated hostility. Subconsciously, I have become much more apologetic, in an attempt to slide back into the “model minority” stereotype— law-abiding, polite, submissive, quiet— to avoid being seen as the “yellow peril” and being attacked further.
No reasonable people are denying that the virus originated from Wuhan, China. Few can deny that the Chinese government has made major blunders that resulted in avoidable fatalities. We should loudly oppose the Communist Party for its cover-ups and propaganda campaigns, but it does not mean we should side with harmful, racist narratives.
Sophie Mak is currently studying law and literature at the University of Hong Kong. She is intrigued by the relationship between art and politics.