Coronavirus rocks already strained ties between US and China
WASHINGTON >> Badly strained ties between the United States and China are deteriorating further with the two sides hurling harsh accusations and bitter name-calling over responsibility for the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The global pandemic is just one in a series of irritants that has rocked the relationship between Washington and Beijing since the Trump administration began to step up long-simmering confrontations on issues ranging from territory to trade to high-tech telecommunications.
The virus, however, has exposed an even deeper rift, one that widened yet again on Tuesday when China announced the expulsion of a number of American journalists. The move underscored the growing mutual mistrust and hostility between the world’s two largest economies.
Since the virus has spread, President Donald Trump and his top aides, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, have stepped up their criticism of China, noting consistently that the outbreak was first reported in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019. They have referred to the virus as the “Wuhan virus” or the “Chinese virus” on multiple occasions, disregarding World Health Organization terminology that avoids identifying it by geography.
On Tuesday alone, Trump discussed the Chinese source of virus outbreak during at least two events and denied there was any stigma attached to the label. On Wednesday, he tweeted at Americans who are facing economic hardship caused by the pandemic that “the onslaught of the Chinese Virus is not your fault.”
At a State Department news conference, Pompeo referred six times to the virus as the “Wuhan virus” and suggested the Chinese are attempting to distract the world from the shortcomings of its initial response by highlighting its tough measures that have helped contain the outbreak. Pompeo also suggested that an “after action” report would corroborate his claim, indicating that the tensions are unlikely to end when the pandemic is over.
Experts are not unsympathetic to that position.
“They made some blunderous mistakes in the early six or seven weeks, and then they came down hard with a gargantuan quarantine,” said J. Stephen Morrison, director of the Global Health Policy Center at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, referring to China.
“And they now control the narrative that this has been hugely successful and they suppress whatever additional dissident thoughts there may be on exactly what’s going on,” he told reporters in a conference call.
In a meeting with hotel executives at the White House, Trump took pains to make clear that the virus originated in China, asking pointed questions of Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson about where the impact was first felt.
“And this all started in China? That’s where you first saw the problem and where you first got hit?” Trump asked. “Absolutely,” Sorenson replied.
“Hopefully, you all heard that,” Trump told reporters.