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Trump China Views Shift as Crisis Grows04/02 06:08

   WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Donald Trump has held an unequivocal position 
about China and the coronavirus --- several of them.

   Trump initially praised China, then excoriated Beijing after it made 
unsubstantiated claims that the virus originated in the United States. Now, 
Trump is back to offering niceties. 

   The diverging messages have generated finger-pointing by both Beijing and 
Washington that is further destabilizing a critical relationship between 
countries with the two largest economies and militaries. 

   There might not be radical shifts in U.S.-China policy during the next 
several months, but China's cover-up and disinformation campaign will color the 
relationship going forward, Dan Blumenthal, director of Asian studies at the 
American Enterprise Institute, said Wednesday.

   "It's very hard to see progress on trade talks after this," he said. He 
added that he expects Congress will push to address American dependence on 
China for medical and other manufacturing supplies. 

   There are calls in Congress to hold China accountable for initially covering 
up the outbreak. Anticipating a backlash, China's official Xinhua News Agency 
last month suggested that Beijing could retaliate against the U.S. by banning 
the export of medical products that would leave the U.S. stuck in the "ocean of 
viruses."

   Early in the outbreak, Trump lauded China for its response to COVID-19, 
tweeting on Jan. 24 that the U.S. appreciated Beijing's efforts and 
"transparency," even though local Chinese officials initially covered up 
mounting cases in Wuhan, the city where the virus was first reported. In 
February, as the virus began to spread in Europe, Trump still refrained from 
blaming China. 

   Then Trump started going after Beijing, repeatedly calling COVID-19 the 
"Chinese virus." He said he was upset that some Chinese officials had suggested 
without evidence that the U.S. military transported the virus to Wuhan or that 
the virus was released from a U.S. lab.

   A Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, Zhao Lijian, tweeted March 12: "It 
might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public 
your data! US owe us an explanation!" 

   Other U.S. officials chimed in. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called 
COVID-19 the "Wuhan virus" six times in one State Department briefing. He 
chastised the Chinese Communist Party for not allowing U.S. medical experts 
into the country, kicking Western journalists out and cracking down on the flow 
of information.

   The National Security Council at the White House also has accused the 
Communist Party of launching disinformation campaigns around the world and 
retaliating against Chinese citizens who wanted to tell the public about the 
coronavirus.

   The president has said China was trying to blame the United States to 
distract the world from the shortcomings of Beijing's own response. 

   "It could have been stopped in its tracks," Trump said March 19 at a 
coronavirus task force briefing at the White House. "Unfortunately, they 
(Chinese officials) didn't decide to make it public. But the whole world is 
suffering because of it."

   Trump abruptly stopped calling it the "Chinese virus" shortly after China's 
ambassador to the U.S., Cui Tiankai, appeared to split with Zhao, calling the 
theory "crazy" and saying that it was not for diplomats to speculate.

   Now the president is praising Chinese President Xi Jinping again. 

   "We have a great trade deal and we would like to keep it. They would like to 
keep it and the relationship is good," Trump said Wednesday. He noted that some 
of China's numbers on COVID-19 cases seem a bit "low," but he insisted his 
relationship with Xi remained "really good."

   For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such 
as fever and cough, that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially 
older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe 
illness, including pneumonia, and death. The coronavirus has infected at least 
940,000 people and killed more than 47,000 worldwide, according to figures 
compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

   Ray Yip, an American public health official who founded the U.S. Centers for 
Disease Control and Prevention's office in China in 2003, said expert teams the 
central government sent to Wuhan failed to initially realize that the virus 
could spread from human to human, which compounded the consequences. 

   Once the Chinese government understood the scope of the problem, it moved 
decisively, he said. Chinese health officials informed the World Health 
Organization about the new virus on Dec. 31. By Jan. 12, Chinese scientists had 
sequenced the virus' genetic makeup and shared it with the WHO, drawing praise 
for their transparency and swift action.

   Yip contends the U.S. response was far worse than China's.

   "If we started responding forcibly, properly, tracked down the cases and 
snuffed them out, it didn't have to spread," Yip said. "We let an initial small 
fire spread, and now the fire is too big --- we have trouble putting it out. If 
there is such a thing as suing for malpractice for public health --- this has 
to be it." 

   Dali Yang, a University of Chicago political science professor who 
researches Chinese governance and has closely followed the pandemic, also 
points a finger at local Chinese officials, who, in early January, were 
preparing for "two sessions," an annual event for local and provincial 
officials.

   They didn't want to upset Beijing or cause panic in the streets ahead of the 
important Jan. 11-17 meetings so they suppressed information about the 
outbreak. 

   Before and during the "two sessions," China's National Health Commission 
dispatched three teams of experts to Wuhan. The first two struggled to get 
information from local health officials, especially about whether the virus was 
being transmitted from person to person, Yang said. The experts reportedly were 
closely watched and were not allowed to talk to emergency doctors or visit 
infectious-disease wards. 

   Local officials punished Li Wenliang, an ophthalmologist who shared 
information about local transmission of the virus, which later claimed his 
life. When Dr. Ai Fen, head of emergency care at Wuhan Central Hospital, 
assessed that the virus was being spread from human to human, she was 
admonished for spreading rumors and causing panic, Yang said. 

   Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Beijing often blames local 
authorities for the central government's failings.

   "They're still covering up," Blumenthal said. "All discussion of COVID-19 on 
social media apps get blocked and censured. ... They are cracking down even 
more, censoring even more. They are jailing people who are trying to tell the 
truth." 


(KR)

 
 
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