Coronavirus pandemic deepens US-China divide

By Riyaz ul Khaliq

ANKARA (AA) – The COVID-19 pandemic is deepening the rift between the U.S. and China, as the two are now engaged in a blame game over the cause and handling of the global crisis.

U.S. President Donald Trump drew Beijing’s ire with a tweet late Monday night, in which he, for the first time, explicitly referred to the new coronavirus as the “Chinese virus”.

A Chinese Foreign Ministry official shot back on Tuesday, reminding the U.S. to “get its domestic issues handled” before stigmatizing China.

“We urge the U.S. to immediately correct its mistake and stop making unwarranted accusations on China,” spokesperson Geng Shuag said at a press conference.

But Trump apparently paid no heed to Beijing’s protest as he used the incendiary term again in a tweet on Tuesday.

Earlier on Monday, a phone call between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and China’s Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Director Yang Jiechi revealed how the two countries are accusing each other of fear-mongering and lack of cooperation in efforts to stem the outbreak.

Claiming that Beijing had acted with full transparency since the outbreak started, a statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry said Yang told Pompeo that “[…] some US political figures have kept discrediting China and China's epidemic response and stigmatizing China.”

“This has outraged the Chinese people. The Chinese side expresses its firm opposition and strong condemnation. The U.S. side should immediately correct its mistakes and stop making groundless accusations against China,” read the statement.

“China has made it clear to the U.S. side: Any scheme to slander and smear China has no chance of success; any action that harms China's interests will be pushed back firmly and resolutely.”

Pompeo, on the other hand, said he conveyed the concerns of the U.S. over “disinformation” and “outlandish rumors” being propagated by Chinese officials.

“Spoke today with Director Yang Jiechi about disinformation and outlandish rumors that are being spread through official PRC channels,” the top U.S. diplomat said in a brief tweet.

Pompeo was alluding to comments by a senior Chinese Foreign Ministry official, who recently suggested that the U.S. military may be behind the COVID-19 outbreak.

“[…] When did patient zero begin in US? How many people are infected? What are the names of the hospitals? It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan,” Lijian Zhao tweeted last Friday.

The coronavirus blame game is the latest conflict between Washington and Beijing, who have been engaged in a bitter trade war for nearly two years now.

The two sides had recently managed to find some common ground, but rising tensions over the COVID-19 outbreak could threaten the fragile progress achieved after almost 18 months of negotiations.

COVID-19 emerged in Wuhan, China last December, and has spread to at least 152 countries and territories. The World Health Organization has declared the outbreak a pandemic.

Out of over 194,000 confirmed cases, the death toll now exceeds 7,800, while over 81,000 patients have recovered, according to Worldometer, a website that compiles new case numbers.

The current number of active cases is more than 105,000 — 94% mild and 6% in critical condition.