Medical workers cheer for each other in the ICU (intensive care unit) of Zhongnan Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, central China's Hubei Province, Jan. 24, 2020. [Xinhua/Photo]
On Feb 10, The New York Times published an article titled “Coronavirus Outbreak Risks Reviving Stigma for China.” The gist of it is that we should not blame China for epidemics, such as the current outbreak of coronavirus disease. The article also points to the problem of outdated perceptions, noting that US President Donald Trump’s top trade advisor, Peter Navarro, once described China as a “disease incubator,” a comment that even The Times admitted went too far.
Although the nasty comment came years before the current outbreak, that does not change the fact that such claims are downright biased and offensive. Old stereotypes die hard, and they add fuel to dangerous myths. As the article points out, serious outbreaks, such as SARS, did come out of China, but others associated with China may have come from elsewhere, so it is important to avoid the trap of thinking that anything bad equals China.
Disease is something that affects us all, and the United States has had its share of deadly outbreaks throughout its history. In the 20th century, the Spanish Flu killed more people than World War I, which is one of the bloodiest wars in history. First detected at Camp Funston in Kansas in 1918, the virus infected about one-third of the world’s population and killed at least 50 million worldwide, with about 675,000 of those deaths occurring in the United States, according to official data.
Regardless of its type, the flu has always been deadly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention believes that the flu in the United States has resulted in 61,000 deaths annually, on the high end of estimates, since 2010. This flu season alone, the CDC estimates that the flu has sickened 41 million people across the United States and killed 41,000 people, again, on the high end of estimates.
These numbers far exceed those of the current outbreak, which has killed about 2,700 people worldwide, with most deaths in the Chinese mainland. If it is the logic of certain US politicians and media to cast China as the “disease incubator,” then it is only fair to return the favor and let America wear the hat. After all, did Europeans not bring a host of terrible diseases to the “New World,” wiping out millions of Native Americans?
This is not the first time that certain US politicians and media have attacked China. For example, Navarro, author of “Death by China,” is constantly trying to spread fear about China, even creating hawkish critics out of thin air. The “expert” Ron Vara who is hostile toward China, for instance, is nothing more than a figment of his imagination.
The China fear mongering is endless. Just recently, American radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh told his listeners the loony tunes conspiracy theory that the coronavirus is a laboratory experiment. The claim, like the wacky claim that US Senator Tom Cotton keeps repeating, shows a troubling pattern. Certain people refuse to look at the facts and just want you to believe that China is a threat.
Disease is an enemy against humanity. Both China and the United States have had to deal with major disease outbreaks. Regarding China’s efforts in battling the coronavirus outbreak, WHO Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said that China is setting a new standard for outbreak response and that its actions make the world safer.
Ignoring the facts to sling mud at China only shows that these people are not concerned about health and safety but their own self-interests. When it comes to disease, we are all in this together. Disease knows no borders and no country can fight it alone. The real “disease incubators” in this story are the fear mongers who see a tragedy as an opportunity to promote the “evil China” narrative.