China Denies Trump’s Claim It’s Trying to Make Him Lose Election
U.S. President Donald Trump. (Photographer: Yuri Gripas/Bloomberg)

China Denies Trump’s Claim It’s Trying to Make Him Lose Election

(Bloomberg) -- China rejected U.S. President Donald Trump’s claim that Beijing was trying to damage his re-election chances with its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, as rhetoric between the world’s two largest economies continued to heat up.

Trump said in an interview with Reuters published Wednesday that China’s response to the disease was focused on a desire to see him lose in November. The president, who provided no evidence for why China would deliberately mishandle an outbreak that has killed more than 4,600 of its citizens, said he was considering various ways to punish Beijing.

“China will do anything they can to have me lose this race,” Trump said in the Oval Office interview. He didn’t elaborate what punitive actions he might take, but added: “There are many things I can do.”

Trump also said that the U.S. trade deal with China had been “upset very badly” by the economic fallout from the coronavirus crisis. The slowdown has made it more difficult for China to meet purchasing pledges included in a “phase one” trade pact reached between the two sides in January.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs responded Thursday that the country had “no interest” in interfering in internal U.S. affairs. “For some time, certain U.S. politicians, in disregard of the facts, have attempted to shift their own responsibility for their poor handling of the epidemic to others,” ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters, reiterating a past complaint in response to a question about Trump’s remarks.

Officials in Washington and Beijing have been firing charges at each other for weeks as the U.S. became one of the countries hardest-hit by a disease first identified in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. The dispute has complicated global efforts to mount a coordinated response to the virus, with U.S. officials emphasizing Chinese responsibility for failing to stop its spread.

Trump and other Republicans have been ratcheting up efforts to paint China as the villain, as the U.S. economy drifts into recession and the president’s handling of the crisis jeopardizes the party’s grip on the government. Some 55% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the pandemic, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll released Wednesday, while other surveys show the president trailing presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden nationally and in key swing states.

China helped escalate the blame game with the U.S. in March when a foreign ministry spokesman shared speculation on social media that American military personnel introduced the virus to Wuhan. While Trump has held off in recent weeks from calling the pathogen that causes Covid-19 the “Chinese virus,” his campaign sent out a letter earlier this month accusing the country of “lying” about the outbreak.

The political calculus for the U.S. presidential election is complex for Chinese President Xi Jinping, and Chinese government officials express ambivalence behind the scenes about a Democratic or Republican victory. Although Trump has upset China with his trade war and unpredictable tactics, a Democratic leader could pose other challenges by reasserting the American alliance system and putting a greater emphasis on the country’s human rights practices.

China has issued increasingly critical remarks of Trump administration officials -- calling White House trade adviser Peter Navarro a “habitual liar” this week -- but officials have avoided direct criticism that could provoke the U.S. president. Geng, the foreign ministry spokesman, similarly didn’t mention Trump’s name on Thursday, and emphasized the need for cooperation between the two sides.

“China is also a victim, not an accomplice of the virus,” Geng said.

Earlier Wednesday, U.S. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said that China posed a threat to the world by hiding information about the origin of the coronavirus. The comments came after state broadcaster China Central Television’s top evening news program questioned the transparency and accuracy of U.S. data on Covid-19 infections.

“The Chinese Communist Party now has a responsibility to tell the world how this pandemic got out of China and all across the world, causing such global economic devastation,” Pompeo told Fox News in an interview in which he repeatedly criticized Beijing. “America needs to hold them accountable.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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