Trump dubs COVID-19 'Chinese virus' despite hate crime risks

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President Donald Trump speaks during press briefing with the coronavirus task force, at the White House, Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in Washington, as Veterans Affairs Secretary Robert Wilkie, Administrator of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services Seema Verma, Vice President Mike Pence and Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, listen (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

WASHINGTON, D.C. – President Donald Trump said Wednesday that he doesn’t think calling COVID-19 the "Chinese virus" — or the "kung-flu," as one administration official reportedly called it — puts Asian Americans at risk of retaliation despite growing reports they are facing virus-related discrimination.

Since coronavirus infections started appearing in the United States in January, Asian Americans have shared stories of minor aggression to blatant attacks from people blaming them for the pandemic, which has killed more than 130 people in the United States.

Among the hate crimes reported in major cities with Chinese communities: An Asian man in a Brooklyn subway car who was yelled at and sprayed with Febreze air freshener. In Los Angeles, a 16-year-old boy of Asian descent said other students had bullied him and accused him of carrying the virus. Even before cities began shutting down all restaurants to stop the spread of the virus, Chinese restaurant owners were already experiencing steep declines in business because of racial stigma.

Asked why he keeps calling the coronavirus the “Chinese virus” when scientists say the disease doesn't respect borders and is not caused by ethnicity, Trump told reporters at the White House that he doesn't consider it a racist remark.

“It’s not racist at all," Trump said, adding that he calls it the “Chinese virus” because he wants to be accurate. He indicated his terminology was a warranted pushback to Chinese officials who have been suggesting the U.S. military might have introduced the virus to Wuhan, the Chinese city where it was first reported in late 2019.

“China had tried to say at one point — maybe they stopped now — that it was caused by American soldiers," Trump said. “That can’t happen. It’s not going to happen, not as long as I’m president. It comes from China.”

Beijing has complained, but Trump administration officials continue to link the virus to China.

At a State Department news conference on Tuesday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo referred six times to the virus as the “Wuhan virus" and suggested the Chinese were trying to distract the world from the shortcomings of its initial response. Pompeo also suggested that an “after-action” report would corroborate his claim, suggesting that U.S.-China tensions are unlikely to end when the pandemic is over.