MANILA (Reuters) – President Rodrigo Duterte on Monday urged Philippine citizens to stop stirring up anti-Chinese xenophobia related to the outbreak of a coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China, in December and has since killed more than 300 and infected more than 17,000.
The coronavirus outbreak has stoked a wave of anti-China sentiment around the globe, from shops barring entry to Chinese tourists, online mocking or the country’s exotic meat trade and surprise health checks on foreign workers.
In the Philippine capital, Adamson University asked all its Chinese students to observe a 14-day self-quarantine as a precaution. Criticism of that decision led the university to extend the quarantine to all students and staff who had traveled to areas where the virus was prevalent.
“China has been kind to us, we can only also show the same favor to them. Stop this xenophobia thing”, Duterte said in a news conference after meeting with agencies on the coronavirus, which claimed its first fatality in the Philippines on Saturday.
The virus has spread to more than a dozen countries, many of them in Southeast Asia, which has sensitive relations with China amid concerns about Beijing’s political clout in the region and sovereignty disputes in the South China Sea.
China-Philippines relations have often been frosty over maritime disputes, but ties have warmed under Duterte, who prefers not to provoke Beijing and wants to tap it for loans and investment.
“They are blaming the Chinese that (the virus) came from China, but it could always incubate in some other place”, said Duterte. He assured the public there was no reason to panic and that “everything is well” in the country.
“It is not the fault of anybody. Not the Chinese, not the Filipino, no one”, Duterte said.
The Chinese Embassy in Manila said on Friday it was paying close attention to the epidemic in the Philippines and is communicating with its government.
The Philippines is host to dozens of offshore gambling operators that employ many Chinese workers.
Chinese tourists accounted for 22% of the 7.5 million visitors to the Philippines between January and November last year, making China the second-highest nation of origin for international travelers to the country.
To contain the spread of the virus, the Philippine on Sunday expanded its travel ban to include all foreigners coming from China, widening an earlier restriction that covered only those from Hubei province.
Duterte said the government is looking at the possibility of using a drug rehabilitation facility donated by a Chinese philanthropist to quarantine Filipino evacuees from Hubei.
(Reporting by Karen Lema, editing by Larry King)