MANDEL NGAN / AFP
U.S. President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump have both tested positive for COVID-19 and are heading into quarantine, sending shockwaves through the American political system weeks before the election.
But in China where the virus first emerged last year before morphing into a globe-spanning pandemic, millions of internet users reacted to the stunning announcement on Friday with a mixture of surprise, amusement, and plenty of schadenfreude.
Within minutes, the news spread like wildfire on the Chinese internet and instantly shot to the top of trending charts on the Sina Weibo microblogging website, with many calling it just desserts for a leader who shrugged off the threat and linked it with China in speeches.
“Coming from the man who constantly calls it a Chinese plague, this is sweet karma,” wrote Weibo user Xin Fei Yang. Others revelled in the news of the president’s diagnosis and said that he “had it coming.”
“The rest of the world didn’t care when Wuhan got hit and went into lockdown. Who would have thought that the same man leading the racist charge against Chinese people is now speaking about self-isolation and actually calling the virus by its scientific name? Let’s take a moment to feel vindicated but not let our guards down in the global fight together,” read a private micro-blog post that drew tens of thousands of likes and shares among Weibo users.
US-China relations are already at new lows with diplomats and leaders regularly trading barbs over consulate closures, the pandemic, trade disputes and human rights issues.
The posts in China were similar to a flurry of reaction on social media from critics of the president in the U.S. as many uploaded videos, quotes and other evidence of Trump downplaying the severity of COVID.
Trump’s announcement came just hours after reports that Hope Hicks, one of his top aides, had tested positive. To date, nearly 7.3 million people have been infected with the virus in the United States and more than 207,000 have died, according to Johns Hopkins University.
In the months since the pandemic brought the country to a halt in March, Trump frequently claimed it was far less serious than warnings from public health experts. He also continued to host campaign rallies, despite warnings against public gatherings, and often appeared without a mask.
At a chaotic debate with Democratic challenger for the presidency Joe Biden this week, he mocked the nominee for how often he wore his mask, while briefly taking his own out to show he carried one. Just hours before his diagnosis, Trump spoke remotely at a political dinner, claiming that “the end of the pandemic is in sight, and next year will be one of the greatest years in the history of our country.”
On Friday, Chinese state media outlets also reacted to the news, diverting their coverage to focus on the president’s health. Some observers even floated theories that it was “a strategic move” by Trump that served as a “smart tactic to delay” the upcoming November presidential election.
“There is no way this would have ever happened to Xi Jinping,” China expert Stanley Rosen, a political science and international relations professor at the University of Southern California, told VICE News. “The United States and Trump didn't take the COVID issue seriously enough and I'm confident that a lot of people in China will find it unbelievable that the American president now has this infamous virus. It just affirms how poorly the US has treated the pandemic issue compared to China’s handling.”
Elsewhere in Asia, the hashtag #TrumpGotCovid quickly became a trending topic in the Philippines as did the keywords “Trump,” “Melania” and “COVID” in Singapore, amassing millions of tweets.