Ultra-Nationalism is Dangerous Under a Global Pandemic

Stop with the US-China Blame Game

In the recent political tic-for-tat blame game, both the US and China have tried to shift responsibility for the spread of the coronavirus by downplaying their failings in virus response while escalating accusations of blame aimed at each other. Trump and other Republicans have labelled COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” and a Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson had accused the US army of bringing the epidemic to Wuhan when the city hosted the Military World Games last October.

The news-media industry had also taken a hit in the show-down of political narrative-shaping and muscle-flexing, as a series of journalist expulsions on both sides push US.-China ties to the worst that it has been in decades.

Such aggressive behaviors not only escalate tensions on the national level, but may also create lasting divides between the people of China and the US, which may take decades or more to re-bridge.

Among others, cosmopolitan Chinese, most of whom have studied abroad in the West, have taken to social media to express their discontent with the way that Western media organizations have chosen to frame the coronavirus pandemic.

Such discontent were mostly directed towards earlier reporting with insensitive headlines such as the “Yellow Peril” or “China is the Real Sick Man of Asia,” but it is now also directed towards milder criticisms of China and its response measures.

Just two months ago, the same people who have expressed anger and criticized the mishandlings of their own government, are now condemning any Western media that does so as “racist,” “one-sided,” and “pompous.”

Albeit a small number of media reports and commentaries may be so, it is dangerous to discredit the numerous other balanced reporting and analysis that has kept bias at bay and presented the opportunity to view important issues from different perspectives — crucial in a country like China where the media environment is heavily dominated by a single state narrative.

A fair number of US journalists that were recently expelled from China were knowledgeable about the country. They not only helped the outside world better understand China, but also helped some from within to better understand their own country, whether it be the good or the bad. I fear that their departure may give other reporters, with little or biased understanding of China, more leeway to spin their narratives thus fueling domestic chauvinistic attitudes.

Such sentiments push citizens to conform behind a single viewpoint and blind them to other possible narratives. It is an emotionally charged reaction that provokes one to defend the interests of one’s nation at all costs and shut down any oppositional voices.

In the US, the belief of American “exceptionalism” has blinded politicians and citizens alike to that fact that the coronavirus knows no borders. When the coronavirus erupted in Wuhan in late January, very few people in the US expected the virus to affect them in any way. Even when the virus had reached America’s shores and health officials warned of dire consequences if appropriate actions were not taken, Americans carried on with business as usual until it was too late.

Now, the US has surpassed China with the most known coronavirus cases in the world, yet some politicians are still too busy pointing fingers to view China as a potential partner to help alleviate the outbreak.

Meanwhile, the situation in China has improved greatly with big drops in new coronavirus cases and lockdown cities cautiously opening up; yet there is hesitance in the US to acknowledge much of China’s best practices that have succeeded in containing the virus within its borders. Critics on social media are quick to point to China’s heavy media censorship and authoritarian governance as reasons to conclude that any news or information coming out of China must be propaganda and that any actions taken by the Communist Party must be unjustified.

Such discrediting is also dangerous. It brings out a Cold War mentality that paints China as the forever “other”in the minds of Americans. It also inhibits the flow of useful information and supplies that can help save lives during these critical times.

In our era of globalization where virus outbreak is no longer a locally isolated problem, but one that poses serious global collective challenges, we must not let ultra-nationalism cloud our judgments and burn the bridges that those who have come before us built with painstaking time and effort — especially when human lives and livelihoods are at stake.

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