US President Donald Trump has fired off another missive targeting China, arguing the country could have “easily” stopped the Covid-19 pandemic and is now waging an information war to escape responsibility.
Trump lashed out at Beijing in a flurry of messages on Twitter, apparently in response to the recent statement by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian, who accused the US leader of “trying to mislead the public, smear China’s efforts and shift the blame of US incompetence” in handling the Covid-19 outbreak on China.
Zhao’s comment followed a White House letter sent to the World Health Organization (WHO) on Tuesday, which threatened to permanently halt American funding if the agency didn’t make substantial, but unspecified, improvements. The spokesman called on the international community to continue supporting the agency.
While Trump is a known brawler when it comes to his political rivals at home, direct personal attacks on foreign diplomats – saying Zhao spoke “stupidly” – are less common for him. The president has devoted more than one Twitter rant to China’s handling of the pandemic before, but Wednesday night’s condemnation was perhaps his most strongly-worded attack to date.
The White House letter to the WHO on Tuesday repeated a number of arguments the president has made in recent weeks, accusing the organization of a pro-China bias and of helping Beijing to cover up the severity of the coronavirus outbreak. The letter has been criticized for factual flaws, however, touting an apparently non-existent study it said was published in the UK’s Lancet journal to make its case. Washington initially froze funding to the WHO in April over the same allegations, vowing to carry out a review of its response to the Covid-19 crisis while calling on Beijing to step up its contributions to the agency.
Though Chinese officials have admitted to “shortcomings and deficiencies” in taking on the pandemic, they have rejected Trump’s claims of a deliberate “cover-up” time and again, insisting the government shared information with the international community in a timely and transparent manner. Even before Washington – the WHO’s top funder – threatened to pull its donations for good, Chinese President Xi Jinping said his country would provide the organization an additional $2 billion in funding over the next two years, hoping the money would be spent in the developing world.