NEWS & ANALYSIS

Biden v. Xenophobia: New Executive Order Bans Term ‘China Virus’


As of Wednesday, his seventh day in office, Joe Biden signed 40 executive orders; more than Barack Obama issued in his first year, and just 15 short of Donald Trump’s inaugural-year tally, based on National Archive numbers per BizPacReview. 

One of them is particularly interesting. 

In a scramble to combat racism and “xenophobia,” Biden signed an executive order banning federal employees from referring to COVID-19 as the “China virus,” a term coined by President Trump. 

“During the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic, inflammatory and xenophobic rhetoric has put Asian American and Pacific Islander persons, families, communities, and businesses at risk,” the order states. 

“The Federal Government must recognize that it has played a role in furthering these xenophobic sentiments through the actions of political leaders, including references to the COVID-19 pandemic by the geographic location of its origin. Such statements have stoked unfounded fears and perpetuated stigma about Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and have contributed to increasing rates of bullying, harassment, and hate crimes against AAPI persons.” 

“My Administration condemns and denounces acts of racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against AAPI communities,” the order continues. 

Biden suggested the Health and Human Services Department should “consider issuing guidance describing best practices for advancing cultural competency, language access, and sensitivity towards Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the context of the Federal Government’s COVID-19 response. In developing any such guidance, the Secretary should consider the best practices set forth by public health organizations and experts for mitigating racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID-19 pandemic.” 

“Executive departments and agencies shall take all appropriate steps to ensure that official actions, documents, and statements, including those that pertain to the COVID-19 pandemic, do not exhibit or contribute to racism, xenophobia, and intolerance against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.” 

But, the term “China flu” or “China virus” did not come from a vicious, racially charged or “xenophobic” place. 

Rather, taking a look at history, it has always been common practice to describe flus and other illnesses from their perceived place of origin. 

Here are a few well-known examples: Spanish flu, West Nile virus, Zika virus, Ebola. 

So what’s different now? 

Political correctness, or for lack of a better term: wokeness. 

Perhaps rather than worry about what people are calling it, Joe Biden should focus on how to stop the spread.