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Racial labeling of virus condemned

By BO LEUNG in London | China Daily | Updated: 2020-03-26 09:10
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A man wearing a face mask passes by the Southern District of New York Federal courthouse during the outbreak of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in New York City, New York, March 17, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Leading academics in the United Kingdom have criticized US politicians for using the term "Chinese virus" when referring to the novel coronavirus outbreak, calling their comments "unhelpful" to the current situation.

"It's not at all helpful to label the virus as being from any one country," said Rana Mitter, director of the University of Oxford China Centre.

"It's important that the US and China both cooperate, along with other key actors such as the EU, to make sure that as much progress is made as quickly as possible on a vaccine for the virus. Right now, the world needs the US and China to be cooperating much more.

"Language on all sides should be toned down, and opportunities for politicians and scientists to find new areas for international cooperation given top priority."

Racist abuse and attacks toward the East Asian community have reportedly increased as a result of the coronavirus crisis. It is feared such remarks could fuel more bigotry, as the deadly virus spreads around the world.

Philip Young, senior lecturer in public relations at Birmingham City University's School of Media, said that although hardly surprising, some US officials' use of this label is unfortunate and unhelpful. "Politicians routinely frame issues in ways that shift or focus blame on others-the implication is that people are dying and China is the cause. At Birmingham City University we welcome hundreds of Chinese students."

Young noted that adding "another label" to the coronavirus "can only sow confusion in a situation where clarity is paramount."

Not for political gains

Academics have urged communities around the world to cooperate in order to battle the virus and not use the crisis for political gains.

Chris Rowley of Kellogg College, University of Oxford, said that the lexicon should not be used to "weaponize" the virus in an ethnocentric, pointless and banal "blame game".

Rowley said that "maximum and unequivocal international cooperation based on the core characteristics of openness, intellectual freedom and conceptual skills, are required from all".

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