NEWS
19/03/2020 2:30 PM AEDT | Updated 19/03/2020 3:00 PM AEDT

Asians Beyond America Fear Racism After Trump's 'Chinese Virus' Comment

Many believe the US president's “significant global power and influence” is going to fuel further "racial and sinophobic attacks" around the world.

US President Donald Trump’s reference to COVID-19 as the ‘Chinese virus’ impacts Asians not only in America, but across the world including Australia, community leaders and activists say. 

Asian Australian Alliance founder Erin Chew said that because Trump’s “significant global power and influence” extends beyond the US, his comments will encourage ‘right wing’ supporters in other countries to follow suit and leave Asians susceptible to further “racial and sinophobic attacks”.

“Countries like Australia consume a lot of American news and media and are influenced by what is going on in America,” Chew told HuffPost Australia.

“This is why Trump’s comments calling COVID-19 the ‘Chinese virus’ impacts on not just Asian Americans but Asian Australians and really the Asian diaspora, because of the power and influence he holds globally.

“Those who get emboldened to be racist because of his comments extend outside the US jurisdiction, and it is Asians in Australia and in the western and to an extent the European diaspora who will experience the racial backlash.”

Jieh-Yung Lo, inaugural Director of the ANU Centre for Asian-Australian Leadership agreed, urging political leaders to be more aware of the after-effects of using geographic locations when naming illnesses.

“Political leaders have a responsibility to not just stop the spread of COVID-19 in their countries, but halt the rise of racism and xenophobia,” Lo told HuffPost Australia.

“By labelling COVID-19 as a ‘Chinese’ virus, President Trump is giving a license for further hate and division that we all know leads to further bigotry and xenophobia. 

“He needs to realise the description he used reinforces a social stigma against people of Chinese origin that previously existed in countries like the US and Australia.” 

BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI via Getty Images
US President Donald Trump speaks during the daily press briefing on the Coronavirus pandemic situation at the White House on March 17, 2020 in Washington, DC. 

Referencing the increased racism since the COVID-19 crisis that began in China’s Wuhan, Lo said: “Since the outbreak, Chinese people and people of Asian appearance around the world have experienced verbal abuse and physical assault”. 

Trump called it the Chinese virus on Twitter for the first time Monday, the same day his tone about the outbreak suddenly shifted. He began to talk about it seriously, rather than calling it a “hoax” and claiming that conditions were already improving across the US.

Since then, he’s tweeted the phrase “Chinese Virus,” as he styles it, four more times and denied that he ever downplayed the outbreak’s seriousness. 

CBS News correspondent Weijia Jiang also claimed on Twitter that the White House referred to the virus as “Kung-Flu”. 

In Australia, many people of Chinese ancestry have said they have faced a wave of racism, both in person and on social media, since the coronavirus outbreak. 

Queensland surgeon, Dr Rhea Liang, said the “misinformation” about the virus has led to racially-motivated remarks, one of which were made to her at work recently. 

During a consultation at her clinic on the Gold Coast, the general and breast surgeon (born in New Zealand and of Chinese heritage) was taken aback by a caucasian male patient who refused to shake her hand in light of the coronavirus outbreak. 

“There’s a perception this is a Chinese thing,” she told HuffPost Australia, adding, “the white Australian guy at the corner shop is just as much likely to have caught this thing from newly arrived people from China as I might have.

“So to stereotype that only Chinese people might be exposed to it is unfair and a bit racist.” 

Many Chinese restaurants have also suffered a slump in business amid racism and xenophobia directed at Asian-Australian communities. 

With additional reporting by Lydia O’Connor (HuffPost US). 

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