Trump ratchets up criticism of China over coronavirus
US President also defends use of term 'Chinese virus', denying it is racist
WASHINGTON : US President Donald Trump on Wednesday ratcheted up his rhetoric against China over the coronavirus, saying Beijing should have acted faster to warn the world and dismissing criticism that his labeling it the "Chinese virus" was racist.
Mr Trump's tougher language marked an escalation in a bitter war of words between the world's top two economies that has widened to include the global pandemic and media freedoms.
While Mr Trump had previously left it mostly to his top aides to openly criticise China's response to the virus, the Republican president joined the fray in earnest at a White House news conference on Wednesday.
"I don't know if you'd say China's to blame," Mr Trump said. "Certainly we didn't get an early run on it.
"It would have been helpful if we had known about it earlier. But it comes from China, and it's not a question about that - nobody's questioning that."
Mr Trump, in his opening statement, referred to America's "war against the Chinese virus".
A reporter asked him whether it was wrong and potentially harmful to Asian-Americans to give the disease that name as well as for an unnamed White House official to have privately termed it the "kung flu," which has been widely condemned as racist.
"No, not at all. Not at all. I think they probably would agree with it 100 per cent," Trump said. "It comes from China, there's nothing not to agree."
Mr Trump noted that some Chinese officials had tried to blame the virus on the US military, saying "that can't happen, it's not going to happen".
A senior State Department official condemned as "irresponsible" the Chinese accusation, made last week by a foreign ministry spokesman who provided no evidence. Mr Trump's words contrasted sharply with his praise last week for Chinese President Xi Jinping and China's data sharing about the disease.
Though Mr Trump did not single out Mr Xi for direct criticism, he said the Chinese government could have given "a lot earlier notice" about the virus.
Ithas now infected more than 200,000 people and caused nearly 8,500 deaths in 164 nations, triggering emergency lockdowns and injections of cash unseen since World War Two.
In the US, cases of the illness have now been reported in all 50 states, with known US infections surging past 7,300, prompting millions to stay at home and upending American life. More than 100 Americans have died from the virus.
Mr Trump also criticised China's decision to withdraw the press credentials of American journalists at three US newspapers. "I'm not happy about that at all," he said.
Beijing announced on Wednesday what it said was retaliation against US restrictions on Chinese journalists, revoking the accreditation of American correspondents with the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post.
The move is a sharp escalation of a dispute that saw Washington last month force Chinese state media firms to register as foreign embassies. - REUTERS