U.S. President Donald Trump warned China on Saturday that it should face consequences if it was “knowingly responsible” for the coronavirus pandemic, as he ratcheted up criticism of Beijing over its handling of the outbreak.
It could have been stopped in China before it started and it wasn’t, and the whole world is suffering because of it,” Trump told a daily White House briefing.
It was the latest U.S. volley in a war of words between the world’s two biggest economies, showing increased strains in relations at a time when experts say an unprecedented level of cooperation is needed to deal with the coronavirus crisis.
“If it was a mistake, a mistake is a mistake. But if they were knowingly responsible, yeah, I mean, then sure there should be consequences,”
Trump said. He did not elaborate on what actions the United States might take.
Trump and senior aides have accused China of a lack of transparency after the coronavirus broke out late last year in its city of Wuhan. This week he suspended aid to the World Health Organization accusing it of being “China-centric.”
Washington and Beijing have repeatedly sparred in public over the virus. Trump initially lavished praise on China and his counterpart Xi Jinping for their response. But he and other senior officials have also referred to it as the “Chinese virus” and in recent days have ramped up their rhetoric.
He said the Chinese were “embarrassed” and the question now was whether what happened with the coronavirus was “a mistake that got out of control, or was it done deliberately?”
“There’s a big difference between those two,” he said.
Trump also raised questions about a Wuhan virology laboratory that Fox News this week reported had likely developed the coronavirus as part of China’s effort to demonstrate its capacity to identify and combat viruses. Trump has said his government is seeking to determine whether the virus emanated from a Chinese lab.
As far back as February, the Chinese state-backed Wuhan Institute of Virology dismissed rumors that the virus may have been artificially synthesized at one of its labs or perhaps escaped from such a facility.
They have also angrily rejected earlier attempts by some Chinese officials to blame the origin of the virus on the U.S. military.
Trump’s domestic critics say that while China performed badly at the outset and must still come clean on what happened, he is now seeking to use Beijing to help deflect from the shortcomings of his own response and take advantage of growing anti-China sentiment among some voters for his 2020 re-election bid.
At the same time, however, White House officials are mindful of the potential backlash if tensions get too heated. The United States is heavily reliant on China for personal protection equipment desperately needed by American medical workers, and Trump also wants to keep a hard-won trade deal on track.
Australia demands coronavirus enquiry, adding to pressure on China
Australia on Sunday added to growing pressure on China over its handling of the novel coronavirus, questioning its transparency and demanding an international investigation into the origins of the virus and how it spread.
The coronavirus is believed to have emerged in a market selling wildlife in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It has spread around the world infecting some 2.3 million people and killing nearly 160,000 of them, according to Reuters calculations.
Australia’s foreign minister, Marise Payne, said her concern about China’s transparency was at a “a very high point”.
“The issues around the coronavirus are issues for independent review, and I think that it is important that we do that,” Payne told ABC television.
“In fact, Australia will absolutely insist on that.”
Australia has managed to get its epidemic under control before it strained its public health system, reporting 53 new cases on Sunday. They took its total to 6,586, according to the health ministry data.
There have been 71 deaths in Australia. The rate of increase in new cases has been below 1% for seven consecutive days – much lower than in many other countries.
Payne’s call for an enquiry into the outbreak comes at time of tense ties between her country and its most important trading partner.
Wuhan laboratory denies allegation
Though the laboratory denied the rumours in a statement in February, its director Yuan Zhiming, in a first media interview, rejected the rumours that his institute is the original source of COVID-19."We know what kind of research is going at the institute and how the institute manages viruses and samples. There is no way that virus came from us," he told the state-run CGTN TV channel.
"We have a strict regulatory regimen. We have code of conduct for research so we are confident of that," the director said.He said since the Institute of Virology and the P4 lab is in Wuhan, "people can't help but make associations".
Referring to US allegations, Yuan said it is unfortunate that some people are "deliberately misleading" people without having any "evidence or knowledge".