US president Joe Biden will pledge to crack down on xenophobia against Asian-Americans in the wake of an increase in violence and harassment during the pandemic fuelled by Donald Trump’s frequent references to the “China virus”
Mr Biden is set to sign a memorandum on Tuesday acknowledging the “harm” of the hate crimes against Asian-Americans over the past year and directing federal agencies to explore whether any of their own “documents and outputs” had contributed to the discrimination.
The move by Mr Biden comes after Mr Trump and some of his senior officials routinely described the coronavirus as the “China virus”, a label was blamed for fuelling racism against Asian-Americans and Pacific islanders.
“Quite frankly the language and the tone and the orientation of the leadership of the prior administration . . . was really quite offensive and dangerous,” one senior Biden administration official.
A UN report published in August concluded that “racially motivated violence and other incidents against Asian-Americans have reached an alarming level” since the start of the pandemic.
Mr Biden’s effort to reverse acts of xenophobia against Asian-Americans came in a series of executive actions taken by the new president to advance racial equity, which he put at the centre of his presidential campaign in the wake of last summer’s Black Lives Matters protests.
Among the other steps he will order on Tuesday is an order for the Justice department to end the use of private prisons and for the Housing and Urban Development department to examine Trump administration regulatory policies that may have been discriminatory and violated fair housing laws.
Former president Trump came under intense fire last year for using rhetoric about the Covid-19 virus, which originated in Wuhan in China, that fanned the flames of racism towards Asian Americans. As he tried to deflect criticism for his handling of the pandemic, he started to refer to the disease as the “China virus”.
On one occasion in March, a Washington Post photographer captured an image of Mr Trump’s prepared remarks for an event where he had crossed out Corona and replaced it with “Chinese” written in large black letters with his trademark Sharpie pen.
Mr Trump also frequently referred to Covid-19 as the “Wuhan virus”, suggested that the virus originated from a laboratory in the city, and consistently rejected criticism that his language was racist.
During the course of the pandemic, Mr Trump went even further and at times called the virus the “kung flu”.
“I can name ‘kung flu’. I can name 19 different versions of names,” Mr Trump said at a campaign rally in Oklahoma, sparking cheers from the crowd.
His comments sparked outrage among Asian-Americans. Tammy Duckworth, an Asian-American Illinois Democratic senator, criticised him for making “racist jokes” instead of focusing on responding to the pandemic that has now claimed the lives of more than 400,000 Americans.
As part of Tuesday’s action, the Biden administration will also consider new guidance to “advance cultural competency, language access, and sensitivity” towards Asian-Americans and Pacific islanders in the Covid-19 response. And it will direct the justice department to work with Asian-American communities to prevent “hate crimes and harassment”.