Trump continues to point fingers at China over pandemic
He warns of consequences if China was 'knowingly reponsible' for the pandemic
WASHINGTON: US 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," Mr Trump told a daily White House briefing.
It was the latest US 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," Mr Trump said. He did not elaborate on what actions the US might take.
Mr Trump and senior aides have accused China of a lack of transparency after the coronavirus broke out late last year in the city of Wuhan.
This week, he suspended aid to the World Health Organisation (WHO) accusing it of being "China-centric".
Washington and Beijing have repeatedly sparred in public over the virus.
Mr Trump initially lavished praise on China and his counterpart, Mr Xi Jinping, for their response. But he and other senior officials have in recent weeks referred to the virus as the "Chinese virus", and they have ramped up their rhetoric over the last few days.
They have also angrily rejected earlier attempts by some Chinese officials to blame the origin of the virus on the US military.
Mr 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 re-election bid this year.
Mr Trump also again cast doubt on China's death toll, which was revised up on Friday.
China said 1,300 people who died of the coronavirus in Wuhan - half the total - were not counted, but dismissed allegations of a cover-up.
The US has by far the world's largest number of confirmed coronavirus cases, with more than 720,000 infections and over 37,000 deaths.
In a separate development, Australia yesterday called for an independent investigation into the global response to the pandemic, including the WHO's handling of the crisis.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne said the country would "insist" on a review that would probe, in part, China's early response to the outbreak in Wuhan. - REUTERS, AFP