US and China in war of words as Beijing threatens to halt supply of medicine amid coronavirus crisis

Some senior Trump officials refer to ‘Wuhan virus’

Andrew Buncombe
Friday 13 March 2020 13:52 EDT
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The US and China are engaged in a war of words amid suggestions Beijing could cut the supply of medicine in response to the Trump administration’s description of COVID-19 as the “Wuhan virus”.

While health experts in the US and elsewhere have stressed the global nature of the pandemic and sought to avoid blaming China, where the first coronavirus cases were detected, some in the Trump administration have pointed accusatory fingers.

Officials such as secretary of state Mike Pompeo, have taken to referring to the disease as the “Wuhan coronavirus”, in reference to the city in Hubei province where the first cases were concentrated.

Donald Trump’s national security advisor, Robert O’Brien was even more barbed.

“Rather than using best practices, this outbreak in Wuhan was covered up,” he said, speaking at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank in Washington DC. “There’s lots of open-source reporting from China, that the doctors involved were either silenced or put in isolation, or that sort of thing, so that the word of this virus could not get out. It probably cost the world community two months.”

China has said it is helping the international community.

UN Ambassador Zhang Jun told reporters in New York it had provided medical supplies to nations such as South Korea, Japan and Italy.

“We are sending medical teams to countries that need that, and we will do whatever to join the international community to fight this virus because we have only one world, we need to join hands, we need to show solidarity,” he said.

Republican senator Marco Rubio highlighted apparent threats from Beijing to cut off supplies of medicine to the US, amid anger by some to blame China for not acting quickly enough.

Speaking to Fox News, he pointed to an article in Xinhua, the state-run media agency, which noted Mr Trump had praised the efforts of Chinese president Xi Jinping to confront the illness.

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But the article said initially the US’s reaction to China, including a travel ban, was “very unkind”.

“If China retaliates against the United States at this time, in addition to announcing a travel ban on the United States, it will also announce strategic control over medical products and ban exports to the United States. Then the United States will be caught in the ocean of new coronaviruses,” the article said.

“Also according to the US CDC officials, most of the drugs in the United States are imported…If China banned exports, the United States will fall into the hell of a new coronavirus pneumonia epidemic.”

It added: “We should say righteously that the US owes China an apology, the world owes China a “thank you”.”

Mr Rubio said the had been wrong to allow its own medicine manufacturing capabilities moved offshore.

“[China] can threaten to cut us off from our pharmaceutical supplies, they could trigger a domestic problem here that would make it difficult or us to confront them,” he said. “It’s a tremendous amount of leverage.”

Health professionals, who depend on China for access to the country, have publicly praised Beijing for its response. On Capitol Hill, Robert Redfield, director of CDC said this week: “They really have now got control of their outbreak.”

Meanwhile, the state department has summoned the Chinese ambassador after a spokesperson with China’s foreign ministry suggested the US military might have brought coronavirus to Wuhan.

Additional reporting by Associated Press

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