US President Donald Trump on Tuesday defended calling the coronavirus spreading rapidly across the world the “Chinese Virus” and said that he is pushing back against the false narrative of China that the US military did this.
“Well, China was putting out information which was false that our military did this to them. That was false. And rather than having an argument, I said I had to call it where it came from. It did come from China,” the President told reporters at a White House news conference.
“So I think it’s a very accurate term. I didn’t appreciate the fact that China was saying that our military gave it to them. Our military did not give it to anybody,” Trump said. An hour later, he started his meeting with CEOs of the hotel and tourism industry by using the term “China Virus”. Trump refuted the notion that his using of the phrase created a stigma against the Chinese. “I don’t think so. I think saying that our military did to them creates a stigma,” he asserted.
During the news conference, Trump said he took the right decision by imposing a travel ban on China.
He replied in the negative when asked about disruption in the supply chain given that many precursors for pharmaceuticals come from China.
“No, I don’t see that at all and I think China has every incentive to make sure that things work well. China wants to make sure that things work very well,” Trump said.
The US President said he did not expect China not honouring its trade deal commitment of buying things from the US as a result of the coronavirus. “Well they need our product very badly… We have a good relationship with China. We have a signed agreement. They’re going to be buying and they have been buying a lot of product,” he said.
Right now, he said, China has been sending the US everything it needs. “But we are looking at some alternatives,” he added.
The US and China have sparred over the origin of the virus for days, with a Chinese official promoting conspiracy theories claiming it was brought to China by the US army and Beijing accusing American officials of stigmatizing an entire nation.
In his original tweet on Monday, Trump described US airlines and other industries being “particularly affected by the Chinese Virus”.
On Tuesday, he tweeted that some US states were “being hit hard by the Chinese Virus”.
Trump’s allies had previously referred to the pandemic as the “Chinese coronavirus”, but Beijing said it was “strongly indignant” over the phrase, which it called “a kind of stigmatization”.
The US should “immediately stop its unjustified accusations against China,” Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing.
A commentary by the official Xinhua news agency said using “racist and xenophobic names to cast blame for the outbreak on other countries can only reveal politicians’ irresponsibility and incompetence which will intensify virus fears.” The war of words reignited diplomatic tensions between the two countries, which have tussled over trade and other disputes since Trump took office.
Trump’s comments were also criticized inside the US, with warnings it could incite a backlash against the Asian-American community.
“Our Asian-American communities — people YOU serve — are already suffering. They don’t need you fuelling more bigotry,” tweeted New York Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose state is one of the hardest-hit by the virus in the country.
The World Health Organization said more cases and deaths had been reported in the rest of the world than in China.
The new coronavirus was first detected late last year, with China’s own health officials initially saying its source was a live animal market in the central city of Wuhan, whose government had initially tried to cover up the outbreak.
But China has sought to distance itself from the virus, saying the origin is still unknown, while seeking global goodwill by offering aid to countries facing serious outbreaks.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a phone call he initiated with top Chinese official Yang Jiechi, voiced anger that Beijing has used official channels “to shift blame for COVID-19 to the US”, the State Department said.
Pompeo “stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumours, but rather a time for all nations to come together to fight this common threat”, the department added.
The State Department on Friday summoned Chinese ambassador Cui Tiankai to denounce Beijing’s promotion of a conspiracy theory that had gained wide attention on social media.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian suggested on Twitter last week that “patient zero” in the global pandemic may have come from the US.
“It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation,” tweeted Zhao, who is known for his provocative statements on social media.
Pompeo himself has sought to link China to the global pandemic, repeatedly referring to the “Wuhan virus” despite advice from health professionals that such geographic labels can be stigmatizing.
Yang issued a “stern warning to the US that any scheme to smear China will be doomed to fail”, Xinhua said in its summary of the call with Pompeo.
The key Chinese foreign policy leader “noted that some US politicians have frequently slandered China and its anti-epidemic efforts and stigmatized the country, which has enraged the Chinese people”, Xinhua said.
Yang called on the US side to “correct its wrongful behaviour”.
Trump is under fire over his handling of the pandemic, and his backers have sought to cast the coronavirus as a disease brought by foreigners.
While COVID-19 has largely come under control in China, it has killed more than 7,000 people around the world and severely disrupted daily life in Western countries.