President Trump has drawn fire for referring to the novel coronavirus as the “Chinese virus.” Critics accuse him of racism, and they are right that Americans should bear no ill will toward people of Chinese ethnicity. But the Chinese Communist regime is culpable in the pandemic. It worked to suppress news about the virus, persecuted medical workers who told the truth, expelled reporters from American outlets (including the Journal), and has attempted to deflect blame by falsely asserting that the U.S. created the virus.
There’s a better way for Mr. Trump to make his point: He could posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to Li Wenliang.
Li, a physician at Wuhan Central hospital, raised the alarm early. After seeing patient reports discussing a new “SARS coronavirus,” he warned colleagues via an Internet chat room on Dec. 30 and urged them to “take caution.”
When Li’s warnings circulated widely, Wuhan police summoned him and other “rumormongers,” giving them an official admonishment on Jan. 3. A week later, Li developed a fever and cough; subsequent tests confirmed he had contracted the coronavirus. After several weeks in intensive care, he died Feb. 7 at 33.
Three days earlier, after internal and international outrage, China’s Supreme Court had negated his punishment. Yet the fact remains that Chinese leaders inflicted incalculable damage on their own nation and the rest of the world by trying to suppress news of the coronavirus rather than marshal global efforts to fight it.
By raising concerns about the novel coronavirus before Chinese authorities did, Li meets the medal’s criteria of making “an especially meritorious contribution to the security or national interests of the United States, world peace . . . or other significant public or private endeavors.” Since President John F. Kennedy instituted the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1963, presidents have awarded it to a broad swathe of international leaders, including Vaclav Havel, Lech Walesa and Margaret Thatcher. It has also been awarded posthumously, including to JFK himself two weeks after his assassination.
Awarding the Medal of Freedom to Li Wenliang would recognize the role of free speech in maintaining a healthy society and serve as a a fitting tribute to the role that millions of other first responders are playing in this pandemic.
This post was originally published at The Wall Street Journal.