COLD WAR: Trump’s virus tactic infuriating China
A quickly escalating blame game over the coronavirus outbreak could lead to a "new cold war" between the US and China, Chinese sources have warned.
The global pandemic is believed to have originated in a Wuhan seafood market in December 2019 and rapidly spread throughout China's Hubei province before officials sprung into action and locked down tens of millions of people, helping to suppress transmission.
New cases in Hubei have been in the single digits for the past seven days after a peak of several thousand in February. Temporary hospitals established to care for patients have been closed.
However the virus has spread rapidly around the world, reaching pandemic status with at least 200,000 infections. Italy, Iran, South Korea and Spain are battling to contain major outbreaks while many nations are using social distancing to suppress the spread. Borders around the world have temporarily closed and the cancellation of flights, events and business closures is expected to create a deep global recession.
Now, a war of words over the source of the virus is the latest point of friction between Beijing and Washington.
Chinese officials have responded furiously after President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo repeatedly referred to coronavirus as a "Chinese virus" and "Wuhan virus" on Tuesday.
I always treated the Chinese Virus very seriously, and have done a very good job from the beginning, including my very early decision to close the “borders” from China - against the wishes of almost all. Many lives were saved. The Fake News new narrative is disgraceful & false!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2020
I will be having a news conference today to discuss very important news from the FDA concerning the Chinese Virus!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2020
For the people that are now out of work because of the important and necessary containment policies, for instance the shutting down of hotels, bars and restaurants, money will soon be coming to you. The onslaught of the Chinese Virus is not your fault! Will be stronger than ever!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 18, 2020
The World Health Organisation advises against using geographic indicators to label the disease.
China Institute of International Studies research fellow Yang Xiyu said the war of words could continue to escalate.
"This is clearly a weathervane, showing that the confrontation between China and the US is now escalating and expanding. If it continues, bilateral relations will deteriorate and fall into a new Cold War, and the US started all this."
A Beijing-based source told China's state-run newspaper the Global Times that "China won't tolerate being suppressed by the US in the battlefield of ideology".
"If the war of words in the epidemic that led to tension between China and the US is the black swan of 2020, then the deep-rooted ideological contradiction between the two countries is a grey rhino event.
"From trade frictions to hi-tech decoupling, the current trend shows that the two countries have already begun a tit-for-tat battle on the more tricky and sensitive battlefield of ideology, which can no longer even be avoided," the paper quoted a source as saying.
China and the US have repeatedly clashed recently over major issues like trade tariffs, Chinese mobile company Huawei and China's treatment of Uighur Muslims.
On Tuesday, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang slammed Trump's use of the term "Chinese virus" on Twitter.
"The World Health Organization and the international community are clearly opposed to linking viruses to specific countries and regions and to stigmatising them," Geng said. "We urge the US side to immediately correct its mistakes and stop making groundless accusations against China."
China also expelled a number of US journalists from the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, and Chinese media outlets and officials have sought to cast doubt on the source of the virus in recent days, saying it may have been brought in by a US soldier.
Trump has denied there was any stigma attached to the "Chinese virus" label, while Pompeo referred to COVID-19 as the "Wuhan virus" at least six times in a press conference on Tuesday.
The US Secretary of State suggested China is attempting to distract the world from shortcomings in its initial response, saying an "after action" report would corroborate his claim, indicating that the tensions are unlikely to end when the pandemic is over.
He also spoke of a "special responsibility" that China had shirked when it discovered the virus outbreak in Wuhan.
"We know that the first government to be aware of the Wuhan virus was the Chinese government," Pompeo told reporters.
"That imposes a special responsibility, to raise the flag to say: 'We have a problem, this is different and unique and present risks.' And it took an awful long time for the world to become aware of this risk, that was sitting there, residing inside of China."
Trump also blamed China for "putting out information which was false - that our military gave this to them."
"That was false. And rather than having an argument I said I have to call it where it came from. It did come from China. So I think it's a very accurate term. But no, I didn't appreciate the fact that China was saying that our military gave it to them."
For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. The vast majority of people recover from the new virus.
According to the World Health Organisation, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover. In mainland China, where the virus first exploded, more than 81,000 people have been diagnosed and more than 69,000 have recovered.
- With Associated Press