President Donald Trump said that the trade accord with China means “much less to me” because of what he called that country’s role in the spread of the coronavirus.
The president, at a White House coronavirus briefing on Thursday evening, again complained that the U.S. had to shut down its economy to protect against the virus.
“The trade deal means less to me now than when I made it,” Trump said.
Trump has sought to pin blame on China for the outbreak as polls show a growing number of voters disapprove of his handling of the pandemic.
The president has taken a number of actions designed to punish the Beijing government over the virus and other issues, including its efforts to curtail political freedoms in Hong Kong and the detention of roughly 1 million minority Muslims.
Trump ordered an end to Hong Kong’s special status after determining that a new Chinese national security law meant that the former British colony was no longer autonomous. He also signed a law authorizing sanctions against officials responsible for cracking down on political dissent in the city, weeks after he signed a similar law aimed at those involved in repressing Uighur Muslims.
And this week, in one of the biggest threats to diplomatic ties between the countries in decades, the U.S. gave China three days to close down its consulate in Houston, the fourth largest American city.
The State Department said it had ordered the shutdown “to protect American intellectual property and Americans’ private information,” without giving more details. China has vowed to retaliate.
The U.S. Justice Department has also intensified a crackdown on Chinese hackers and researchers. On Tuesday, the department accused two men of working with the Chinese government to target companies developing vaccines for the coronavirus and stealing hundreds of millions of dollars worth of intellectual property and trade secrets from companies across the world.
Yet the president has indicated to aides that he doesn’t want to further escalate tensions with Beijing, and has ruled out for now additional sanctions on other top Chinese officials, according to people familiar with the matter.
Inflaming the conflict with China could create new headwinds for the U.S. economy, which has already been battered by the pandemic, and possibly upend the trade agreement that Trump brokered with Chinese President Xi Jingping.