President Donald Trump described coronavirus as ‘Chinese virus’ while demanding Beijing to stop shifting blame for Covid-19—the disease caused by the virus—to the US.
Washington and Beijing have been embroiled in a bitter shifting blame for Covid-19. The pandemic comes at a time of wide-ranging tensions between the United States and China on issues from trade to human rights to Beijing’s military buildup.
“The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus,” the US president tweeted Monday night.
Trump’s allies had previously referred to the pandemic as the “Chinese coronavirus,” but the tweet marks the first time the president said it himself.
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 United States,” the State Department said.
Pompeo “stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumors, but rather a time for all nations to come together to fight this common threat,” the department added.
The United States had summoned China’s ambassador after a senior official in Beijing tweeted the “ridiculous” suggestion that the US military started the COVID-19 pandemic.
The State Department denounced Beijing’s promotion of a conspiracy theory that had gained wide attention on social media.
David Stilwell, the top US diplomat for Asia, issued a “stern representation” to Ambassador Cui Tiankai a day after foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian tweeted the conspiracy theory.
“China is seeking to deflect criticism for its role in starting a global pandemic and not telling the world,” a State Department official said on Friday.
Foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, in tweets last week in both Mandarin and English, suggested that “patient zero” in the global pandemic may have come from the United States—not the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan, where cases were first reported in late 2019. “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.
In October last year, Wuhan hosted 2019 Military World Games, in which the US armed forces had participated. The outbreak of coronavirus disease was first reported from Wuhan, on 31 December 2019.
Pompeo had earlier sought to link China to the global pandemic, repeatedly referring to SARS-CoV-2 as the “Wuhan virus” despite advice from health professionals that such geographic labels can be stigmatizing.
Republican Senator Tom Cotton, a Trump ally, has spoken of the “Chinese coronavirus” and in a recent statement vowed, “we will hold accountable those who inflicted it on the world.”
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.
(With input from agencies)