The coronavirus pandemic is lifting, but the pathogen that turned familiar environs into danger zones is undoubtedly leaving lasting effects. It’s natural to fear a novel affliction, and so is shying away from its source — China. As disease strains ties between the United States and the People’s Republic, Americans can focus on seeking satisfaction for economic damages and still refrain from overwrought emotional animus toward its people.
President Trump’s blunt finger-pointing at China’s Communist authorities for failing to contain the COVID-19 virus has led to charges that he is purposely whipping up anger against persons of Chinese ethnicity. Last week, he told CBS White House correspondent Weijia Jiang that her confrontational query about U.S. coronavirus deaths is “a question you should ask China.”
On cue, cries of ethnic insensitivity erupted. Presuming racism infuses every Trump reference to race is, at best, fuzzy thinking and, at worst, itself a descent into racism. China’s role in the outbreak of disease is not in dispute, nor is there doubt that the trend toward disillusionment with “the Middle Kingdom” has long preceded both the president and the pestilence.
A Pew Research Center survey in 2011 found that 51 percent of respondents held a favorable view of China, with 36 percent having an unfavorable one. The following year, favorable-unfavorable sentiment slid into a 40-40 percent equilibrium, then ever since, disapproval of the Asian giant has dominated.
With the coronavirus outbreak in January, Americans’ distaste for China climbed to record levels, with 66 percent disapproving and 26 percent approving. Ominously, nine in 10 respondents claim to see China’s power and influence as a threat, including 62 percent who view the threat as a major one, an increase of 14 percent since 2018.
The hardening of attitudes is unsurprising. Upwards of 90,000 innocent Americans are dead as a result of the airborne disease that has clawed at U.S. cities like a rapacious dragon.
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro on Friday branded the lethal pestilence as a “biological Chernobyl that they’ve unleashed on the world.” His description is unfair — to Chernobyl. Even the harshest assessment of that 1986 nuclear disaster in Ukraine put the death toll at “only” 60,000. COVID-19 has claimed more than 315,000 lives worldwide.
There is no clear evidence that the virus was purposely released from a Wuhan virology lab where it is thought to have originated. Intentional or not, experimenting with deadly pathogens absent fail-safe measures is irresponsible. China’s refusal to allow U.S. immunological experts to assist in hunting the outbreak’s cause only casts doubt on the insular nation’s denials of culpability.
And China’s biological mischief apparently doesn’t end there. As this publication’s Bill Gertz reported on Friday, U.S. intelligence claims Beijing is engaged in the secret development of pathogens tailored to attack specific ethnic groups. There is no innocent explanation for research exploring methods of targeting racial subsets. The fact that an estimated 1 million Chinese Uighurs, a Turkic minority, are currently held in re-education camps demonstrates Beijing’s own ethnic bigotry.
The same callous behavior may underlie Beijing’s failure to safely handle its virological research. “Asian Americans are VERY angry at what China has done to our Country, and the World,” Mr. Trump tweeted recently. Nevertheless, it is he who is excoriated when he dares to suggest that Asian-Americans harbor the same raw emotions that other Americans feel toward China’s upending of normal life.
“We are very angry at you,” clapped back Rep. Grace Meng, New York Democrat. “You use racism to disguise your lack of responsiveness and responsibility. American lives of all backgrounds have been lost. Your words have led to increased discrimination against Asian Americans which will outlast the coronavirus.”
Resenting Chinese-Americans for the mischief of their countrymen back home is confused thinking, and so is blaming the president for muddleheads who aim their ire at despots half a world away and end up hitting their neighbors instead. It’s important for Americans to remember that our rejection of authoritarianism is the primary reason we are all here.
Mr. Trump has floated the idea of imposing tariffs worth as much as $1 trillion on Chinese imports as a means of collecting restitution for the damage the coronavirus has cost the U.S. economy. Settling on damages for negligence is a straightforward means of indemnifying liability. No amount of money can redeem the loss of life, but relentless resentment serves neither America nor China.
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