China Blasts U.S. for ‘Overreaction’ to Virus, Spreading Fear

(Bloomberg) --

China said the U.S. “inappropriately overreacted” to the deadly virus that originated there and hasn’t provided much help to counter the outbreak, disputing the Trump administration’s claim that it offered assistance.

“The U.S. government hasn’t provided any substantial assistance to us, but it was the first to evacuate personnel from its consulate in Wuhan, the first to suggest partial withdrawal of its embassy staff, and the first to impose a travel ban on Chinese travelers,” Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Monday.

The U.S. has offered its top public health experts to help China with the coronavirus outbreak but so far Beijing hasn’t responded, National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien said Sunday.

Beijing’s harsh words bring the tensions between the two countries back into focus, after they spent the last two years engaged in a trade war that undermined growth in the world’s two biggest economies. China’s death toll has climbed to 361 and its confirmed cases now top 17,000, fueling skepticism about the government’s ability to constrain it.

International efforts to halt its spread are intensifying as the U.S. confirmed new infections and the Philippines reported the first death outside China over the weekend, with airlines in Asia, Europe and the Middle East stopping service to the mainland.

Hua said the U.S. was “turning from overconfidence to fear and overreaction.” She said banning the entry of foreigners who traveled to China in the past 14 days could be in violation of civil rights, rather than reduce the risk of the novel coronavirus spreading.

The U.S. will send a “handful more” flights to bring out citizens from Hubei province, the epicenter of the outbreak, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told reporters Monday, according to a pool report. Pompeo said the U.S. may also bring in medical supplies.

China Blasts U.S. for ‘Overreaction’ to Virus, Spreading Fear

‘Worldwide Concern’

China on Monday was grappling with the financial impact of the outbreak as it returned from normally-joyous Lunar New Year holidays, with millions of citizens quarantined during a week that usually sees people travel back to their hometowns.

Its fast spread has rattled global governments, travelers and markets, with Chinese stocks on Monday falling the most since 2015 and commodity markets collapsing as trading resumed after the break. U.S. equity futures rose as China moved to cushion the financial blow.

Health chiefs from both sides -- Ma Xiaowei, Director of China’s National Health Committee, and Alex M. Azar II, the U.S.’s Secretary of Health and Human Services -- also held a phone call Jan. 27. Azar was appointed by President Donald Trump to lead a task force to coordinate Washington’s response to the coronavirus.

Azar told his Chinese counterpart that he and Trump -- who signed a historic phase-one trade accord with Beijing only weeks ago -- had expressed appreciation for the transparency shown by China in the prevention and control of the outbreak, and the ongoing health cooperation between the two countries.

Hua, the foreign ministry spokeswoman, said that China would still cooperate with the U.S. even as she criticized its response to the virus.

“Most countries appreciate and support China’s efforts to fight against the novel coronavirus, and we understand and respect them when they adopt or enhance quarantine measures at border entry,” Hua said. “But in the meantime, some countries, the U.S. in particular, have inappropriately overreacted, which certainly runs counter to WHO advice.”

‘Too Early’

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Thursday that the virus could hurt China’s economy and push jobs back to the U.S.

“So far I haven’t seen the U.S. overreacting except the inappropriate comments made by Wilbur Ross,” said Shi Yinhong, an adviser to China’s cabinet and also a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. He said other countries, including Russia, had adopted a similar approach to America’s after WHO declared the virus a public health emergency.

“It’s probably too early for Chinese diplomats to bash the U.S. for not helping out,” Shi said. “The relations between China and U.S. have already worsened, and now with this, it couldn’t be any worse.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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