Trump touts racial equality while referring to COVID-19 as 'China plague'

President Donald Trump referred to the coronavirus as the “China plague” on Friday during a news conference in which he boasted about the U.S. economy.

Speaking at the White House, Trump addressed the May jobs report that was released this week, claiming that a strong economy is the “greatest thing that can happen for race relations.”

“When we had our tremendous numbers … just prior to the China plague that floated in, we had numbers, the best in history, for African American, for Hispanic American, for Asian American, and for everybody,” he said.

The re-emergence of the phrase elicited criticism across social media, from many who pointed out that terms like the “China plague” or the “China virus” — which experts have warned could put Asian Americans in harm’s way — run counter to ideas of racial equality, particularly as protests continue across the nation over the death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis police custody.

The president also recently referred to the coronavirus as “the plague from China” in an interview with his former White House press secretary Sean Spicer earlier this week.

“If you look before the plague came in from China, which should’ve never happened, they should’ve never allowed that to happen, but before that happened, we had the best black unemployment rate in the history of our country,” he said.

Kate Bahn, director of labor market policy at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth, told USA Today that the job gains were largely at the lower end of the pay scale. This left many black and Latino workers without sufficient wealth to “build a financial cushion” prior to the crisis.

Trump’s “China plague” rhetoric comes days after news broke that the administration is set to cancel visas for thousands of Chinese students who have ties to China’s army. The New York Times reported that further restrictions could potentially be handed down.

The president’s language has drawn backlash in the past from many in the Asian American community, who witnessed an uptick in hate crimes during the pandemic, and warned that further use could spur more anti-Asian bias across the country. Trump told Fox News in a March interview that he was moving away from the terminology, but didn’t regret using it in the past. Other Trump administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, had continued to refer to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” throughout the pandemic.

The timing of the increased use of “China plague” coincides with the launch of “Asian Americans for Trump” last week, a bid to appeal to the Asian American electorate, which Trump failed to capture in the last election cycle. According to a 2016 exit poll, the vast majority of Asian Americans (79 percent) voted for Hilary Clinton.