Donald Trump had a message for the Chinese government at the beginning of the year: Great job!
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency,” Trump tweeted on January 24. “It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
Over the next month, the president repeatedly praised the Chinese government for its handling of the coronavirus, which appears to have first emerged from a wildlife market in the transportation hub of Wuhan, China, late last year. Trump lauded Chinese President Xi Jinping as “strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus,” and emphasized that the U.S. government was “working closely” with China to contain the disease.
For months, Trump himself referred to the illness as “the coronavirus.” In early March, though, several conservative media figures began using Wuhan virus or Chinese virus instead. On March 16, Trump himself began to refer to it as the “Chinese Virus,” prompting commentators to charge that he was racializing the epidemic. In contrast, some early media reports had referred to the illness as “the Wuhan virus,” but most outlets switched to referring to “the coronavirus” not long after it emerged, following the advice of public-health experts concerned about the very possibility of stigma from associating deadly diseases with a particular ethnic group or location. Some conservative outlets subsequently began attacking critics of the president’s change in language as propagandists for the Chinese Communist Party.