WASHINGTON — President Trump on Monday said that the Asian American community is not to blame for the coronavirus and must be protected.

That statement follows criticism from Asian American leaders and others that repeated references to COVID-19 as the “Chinese virus” by Trump and other government leaders was encouraging verbal and physical attacks on Asian Americans, regardless of their ethnicity.

As recently as last week, in response to reporters’ questions, Trump denied that the use of “Chinese virus” was racist since the virus originated in China, and did not appear to believe that such references were harming the Asian American community.

The origin of the virus has also been a sore spot between the U.S. and China, with some Chinese officials blaming the virus on the U.S. military and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accusing Beijing of contributing to the pandemic by not sharing information in a timely manner.

On Monday, Trump tweeted, “It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus…. is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!”

At a news conference the same day, when asked about his apparent change of heart, Trump said, “It seems that there could be a little bit of nasty language toward the Asian Americans in our country and I don’t like that at all … So I just wanted to make that point, because they’re blaming China, and they are making statements to great American citizens that happened to be of Asian heritage, and I’m not gonna let that happen.”

Rep. Judy Chu (D-Pasadena), chair of the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus, is among the community leaders who has been warning that linking the virus with Chinese people encourages anti-Asian racism. In response to Trump’s latest comments, she tweeted:

“Thank you, President Trump for this important reminder. But it wouldn’t be necessary if you hadn’t repeatedly rejected the advice of experts who said your use of ‘Chinese virus’ was inciting violence and prejudice. If you want to protect Asian Americans, stop using the term.”

Chu told NBC News, “For weeks, President Trump has been told by reporters, members of Congress, health experts and members of his own administration not to use the term ‘Chinese virus.’ And when confronted publicly, he rejected expert opinions and repeatedly doubled down on the term, defending it as appropriate and one he said Asian Americans would welcome. But he was wrong…

“I encourage the president to listen to his own tweet and shift away from xenophobia.”

Weijia Jiang, White House correspondent for CBS News, tweeted, “For the first time, Trump acknowledges Asian Americans are being blamed for the spread of coronavirus. But he has not acknowledged how his use of the phrase ‘Chinese virus’ plays a role.”

Jiang previously reported that a White House official referred to the virus as “Kung Flu” to her face.

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