President Donald Trump declared that the United Nations must hold China “accountable” for failing to contain the coronavirus.
WASHINGTON – China’s foreign ministry on Wednesday accused President Donald Trump of having “shady political motives” and engaging in a “futile” effort to smear Beijing for its handling of the coronavirus outbreak.
In scathing remarks, Wang Wenbin, a spokesman for the foreign ministry, directly countered Trump’s address to the United Nations on Tuesday, in which he suggested that China allowed the virus to escape its borders and “infect the world.”
Wenbin said Trump had “fabricated lies” and used his platform at the UN to level “unfounded allegations” against China at a time when global cooperation is needed to stop the pandemic.
In a seven-minute address to the UN on Tuesday, Trump said world leaders must hold China accountable for unleashing “this plague onto the world.”
“In the earliest days of the virus, China locked down travel domestically, while allowing flights to leave China and infect the world,” the president said. “China condemned my travel ban on their country, even as they cancelled domestic flights and locked citizens in their homes.”
In his response, Wenbin said that by “repeatedly smearing China on COVID-19-related issues, the U.S. is attempting to shift the blame for its bad handling of the virus onto others.”
“Such acts have again shown that unilateralism and bullying are the biggest threat to the world,” he said. “What the US needs to do now is stop the political manipulation, stop labeling or politicizing the virus, and join the rest of the international community in this common fight, rather than scapegoat or smear others.”
U.S.-China tensions have spiked dramatically during the pandemic, with many fearing a new Cold War between the world’s two biggest economies.
The vitriolic geopolitical volley comes as Trump enters the final stretch of his re-election campaign, in which his handling of COVID-19 is a central issue. Trump repeatedly downplayed the virus when it first emerged in the United States, saying his administration had it under control and predicting it would disappear in warmer weather.
Trump admitted that he intentionally played down the virus in a March interview with Washington Post journalist Bob Woodward.
“I wanted to always play it down. I still like playing it down, because I don’t want to create a panic,” Trump told Woodward on March 19. Audio clips of a series of Woodward interviews with the president were made public after the journalist released his book, “Rage,” which paints a searing picture of the Trump administration’s response to the virus.
U.S. officials have noted that China initially censored information about the virus and silenced doctors who tried to raise alarms about the outbreak, which began in Wuhan late last year.
China imposed a strict lock down in Wuhan on Jan. 23, barring exit from the city in the hopes of preventing further spread of the virus. But it was too late. There were also confirmed cases in other countries – including in the U.S.
Still, Trump’s White House rival, Joe Biden, and other critics of the president have accused him of not leveling with American public and not doing enough to prepare the country to respond to the pandemic once he learned of its dangers.
In a Feb. 7 interview with Woodward, Trump discussed the threat of the coronavirus with a level of detail that he had not yet acknowledged to the public, saying it was “deadly stuff,” and “more deadly than your – even your strenuous flus.”
Woodward also disclosed details of a Jan. 28 briefing Trump had with top aides in which he was given a “jarring” warning that the virus would be the “biggest national security threat” to his presidency.
Trump publicly praised Xi Jinping at the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, saying, among other things, that Beijing was being transparent and working “very hard” to contain the virus.
In his UN remarks, Trump attacked China over its environmental record, saying Beijing “dumps millions and millions of tons of plastic and trash into the oceans, overfishes other countries’ waters, destroys vast swaths of coral reef, and emits more toxic mercury into the atmosphere than any country anywhere in the world.”
But Trump himself has infuriated environmental groups at home by rolling back a bevy of protections and shrugging off the threat of climate change as a hoax.
Wenbin noted that the Trump administration withdrew from the Paris Climate Accords and has shunned international efforts to address other environmental problems.
“The United States is the world’s largest exporter of solid waste and a major consumer of plastics per capita,” he said, and yet the U.S. has created obstacles to global rules on plastic waste.
“It has even shipped a huge amount of waste to developing countries, doing enormous harm to the local and global environment,” Wenbin said. “How is such a country in any position to blame China?”
Contributing: Jeanine Santucci
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