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Racist reports symptom of West's Sinophobia

By Maitreya Bhakal | China Daily | Updated: 2020-02-05 08:19
A woman wearing a mask walks along a street in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, January 26, 2020. /Xinhua Photo

Westerners have offered three different responses to the recent virus outbreak in China. Some have empathized with the victims and expressed the hope that the outbreak ends soon. Some have taken advantage of it to indulge in stereotypes and memes. And some have delighted in the opportunity to disparage the Chinese government.

There were similar responses during the SARS outbreak in 2002-03. Yet those were the early days of 24-hour news coverage, and social media was almost non-existent. Today's technology has made sensationalizing these responses imperative to grab an audience.

Upon hearing the story that the virus may spread through bats, the Daily Mail, a British tabloid, published a video of a Chinese woman eating bat soup. It didn't matter that the video was from Palau, not China, and was filmed in 2016.

Following such reports, children started being harassed in school just for looking like Chinese.

In France, a Twitter hashtag-JeNeSuisPasUnVirus (I'm not a virus)-was started by the Chinese community to counter such racist reports.

It's not entirely fair to say that the "Yellow Peril" was back. It never left. Racism has always been central to Western culture. Why change now?

The more people the virus has killed, the more the Western media has killed journalistic values. The New York Times has led the horde, braying that the Chinese government's response exposed "core flaws", assuming perhaps that "democracies" handle health crisis better. Another article bellowed that the crisis could "humble China's strongman" (their favorite word to describe Chinese top leader).The Wall Street Journal was more direct, simply saying that China's censorship helped spread the virus.

And it is worth noting that in the initial days of an epidemic, obtaining accurate data is difficult. Everything cannot be irresponsibly released without verification. Moreover, in this case, symptoms matched normal flu symptoms, making the virus difficult to detect. Yet the reluctance of local officials to jump to conclusions has been interpreted by some in the West as some sort of nefarious conspiracy to silence critics at the cost of public health.

Do the Western democracies handle health crises better? One way to find out is by focusing at what the Western media won't: facts.

When they preach about "free speech", are they holding up the United States as the model for transparency on public health crises? This is where officials in the Michigan town Flint initially hid the true extent of lead poisoning, and where children and adults continue drinking poisoned water even today, and where seasonal flu kills tens of thousands of Americans each year.

Or do they mean India, where last year more than 67,000 people were diagnosed with a preventable disease like dengue? Where 1,108 children on average have died every year since 2014 in a single hospital in the city of Kota?

By contrast, in China, the response was sanctioned and mobilized at the highest level of government (a level which, in the "US democracy", is generally reserved for killing civilians using drones).

China has put people over profits, taking the most un-American, un-capitalist steps to battle the outbreak: More than 50 million people and 15 cities have been quarantined. In one of them, Wuhan, Hubei province, where the outbreak originated, a 1,000-bed hospital has been built within a couple of weeks. To help curb new infections, the Lunar New Year holiday was extended by three days and people encouraged to stay at home, with movie releases postponed and train and flight cancellation charges refunded for that purpose. The Shanghai and Shenzhen stock exchanges have been suspended. Delays in loan repayments are being accommodated and virus-related insurance claims prioritized. And online sellers of protective masks have been banned from raising prices.

In the US, such moves would be unthinkable. Imagine the corporate losses if whole cities and the stock markets were shut down. US banks would probably have increased interest rates in such a crisis.

And these moves are paying off. While deaths have been rising (425 at last count), patients are also being cured. Experts estimate that the peak of the outbreak could be reached in 8-10 days. The WHO has praised China's efforts relentlessly-denting celebrations in prejudiced Western newsrooms.

The crisis will pass, but the Sinophobia won't. Those who have the disease of Sinophobia will always find something else. The Western media will continue questioning the legitimacy of the Chinese government. As China succeeds and rises, it will experience more jealousy. More Sinophobia. More Schadenfreude. That is a disease that will prove more difficult to eradicate.

The author is an Indian commentator. The views don't necessarily represent those of China Daily.

  
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