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U.S.-China relations aren’t served by more nationalism and isolation | READER COMMENTARY

Travelers wearing masks line up to buy train tickets at a railway station in Yichang in central China's Hubei province Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Trains carrying factory employees back to work after two months in locked-down cities rolled out of Hubei province, the center of China's virus outbreak, as the government on Wednesday began lifting the last of the controls that confined tens of millions of people to their homes. (Chinatopix via AP)
Travelers wearing masks line up to buy train tickets at a railway station in Yichang in central China's Hubei province Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Trains carrying factory employees back to work after two months in locked-down cities rolled out of Hubei province, the center of China's virus outbreak, as the government on Wednesday began lifting the last of the controls that confined tens of millions of people to their homes. (Chinatopix via AP)(AP)

Jonah Goldberg argues that the Chinese government, like its Russian counterpart, is using the COVID-19 crisis to solidify their authoritarian, yet fragile, power by blaming the “West.” Thus, criticisms of President Donald Trump, such as his use of “Chinese virus,” help those powers (“Coronavirus is more fodder for Chinese propaganda,” March 23).

What he neglects to say is how Mr. Trump has gained power by appealing to the parallel “us vs. them” nationalism coded by race and political ideology, and shaped by history. The Trump campaign began to blame China, which is now aligned with his political adversary, former Vice President Joe Biden, while deflecting any and all legitimate criticisms about how Trump administration has handled the novel coronavirus and the economy.

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What’s problematic about linking the virus to China in a word is the weight of history of xenophobia since the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act and anti-communism/socialism. Asian Americans have often been seen as “exotic foreigners” who all look alike and are potentially disloyal to the country. Words can mobilize these meanings and generate a fear of groups deemed as “un-American” to justify discrimination and nationalist political agenda. Mr. Trump should not be given a free pass to reinforce long-standing racism and nationalism.

Further, Mr. Goldberg worries about a potential hot war between China and the U.S. because the Chinese government’s information control incites the hatred of America. While the situation is different, we also live in a media fragmentation where we are often comfortable in our ideological bubble, thereby leading to the accusations of “fake news.” President Trump has often unnecessarily inflamed world tensions by using public insults.

But the answer is not isolation because the country benefits from critical engagement with the world, including learning how to be open-minded and how to critically engage with history and the (social) media. Likewise, the answer is not nationalism because the country benefits from a more stable and inter-connected world which requires, at minimum, financial and technological assistance as well as painstaking diplomacy by well-staffed experienced diplomats — both of which the Trump administration has slashed.

As this crisis shows, individual interests are often enhanced by promoting the “public good.” We have a great opportunity to critically reflect on how the country has historically played its role globally and domestically, both positively and negatively, and decide what we need to work for the collective good to maximize our individual potentials worldwide. We have enormous challenges ahead.

Taka Ono, Baltimore

The writer is an associate professor of sociology at Anne Arundel Community College.

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