A German publisher has destroyed copies of a children’s book after protests from Chinese diplomats, angered at its assertion that the coronavirus which causes Covid-19 originated in China.
The picture book, A Corona Rainbow for Anna and Moritz, was published by Carlsen Verlag in June to help children understand the pandemic. In it, the father of the title characters says “the virus comes from China and has spread out from there across the whole world”.
Carlsen said any copies still available would be destroyed and the next edition would be corrected. “If the phrases have hurt the feelings of any of our readers, we are very sorry,” it said.
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The decision followed a representation to the publisher by China’s consulate in Hamburg, which also issued a warning about the book to the local Chinese community to be vigilant against acts of hatred.
“Provocation, discrimination and hatred are not in line with Germany’s mainstream values,” the consulate said in a statement. “[Chinese] parents, please remind your children that if they come across such speech or act, try to protect themselves, avoid disputes and report to the teacher and school.”
The book also received poor ratings on Amazon along with comments that it was racist and discriminatory.
There has been a significant increase in incidents of harassment and violence towards Chinese and Asians in many countries since the first Covid-19 cases were identified in Wuhan in December 2019. The racist backlash was fuelled in large part by the politicised debate over the origins of the virus.
Former US president Donald Trump frequently referred to Covid-19 as the “Chinese virus” and his secretary of state insisted, right up to the final days of the administration, that it had leaked from a Wuhan laboratory.
China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, on the other hand, tweeted an equally evidence-free assertion that it had been brought to China from the US.
Soon after taking office, President Joe Biden issued an executive order banning references to the pandemic by a geographic location of origin in a bid to stem the rising xenophobia in the US.
Beijing has suggested the virus may not have emerged in China but was merely detected there first and has been engaged in a sustained diplomatic effort to clear its name over its handling of the deadly virus which has killed millions around the world.
The World Health Organization has repeatedly said the search for the origins of the virus needed to start in Wuhan but could then go where the data showed, either within China or beyond.
In February, a WHO research team said the virus was “unlikely” to have emerged from a laboratory leak and recommended continued investigations into early cases and the potential routes through which infected animals could have entered Wuhan, after a month-long investigation in the city.
A full report of their findings is expected to be released next week but a group of international scientists has cast doubt on their conclusion, writing in an open letter that the mission to Wuhan was insufficiently unrestricted and independent.
At a foreign ministry press conference on Tuesday, Zhao accused the scientists of pursuing “a political agenda with the presumption of guilt”.
He said China had provided full cooperation and support to the WHO-led investigation and again suggested the virus may have originated elsewhere, a possibility which should also be investigated. “There have been more reports worldwide on the coronavirus appearing in various places around the world in the latter half of 2019,” he said.
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