It is often said that your true friends show themselves during times of crisis.
For Chinese leader Xi Jinping, faced with a lethal and spreading coronavirus epidemic that has stirred fear, loathing and Sinophobia worldwide, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has proven himself to be a friend indeed.
But as Chinese officials praise Duterte’s perceived as sympathetic and measured response to the evolving viral crisis, his government risks a backlash among Filipinos who feel it has put commercial interests ahead of public health and has broadly yielded too much, too often to Beijing.
Filipinos, to be sure, are not alone in their fear and panic. The epidemic had killed at least 560 and infected nearly 28,000 in China as of February 6, with infections concentrated in Hubei province around the city of Wuhan, the epidemic’s epicenter.
On January 30, the first coronavirus death outside of China was reported in the Philippines, raising fears of Chinese-to-Filipino contagion at a time the government still maintained an open door to Chinese tourists. Duterte’s government has since tightened measures on Chinese travelers, announcing a blanket ban on February 3.
But the disease’s spread, as elsewhere, has sparked a surge of anti-China xenophobia among many Filipinos, a rising phenomenon perpetuated over social media that has taken wider critical aim at Duterte’s perceived as pro-China policies and orientation.