A spat between Washington and Beijing over the coronavirus pandemic escalated when United States President Donald Trump angered China by referring to the pathogen as the “Chinese Virus”.
The two countries have sparred over the origin of the virus for days, with a Chinese official promoting theories claiming it was brought to China by the US army and Washington officials using terms seen as stigmatising a nation.
“The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus,” Trump tweeted on Monday night.
Trump’s allies had previously referred to the pandemic as the “Chinese coronavirus”.
On Tuesday, China said it was “strongly indignant” over the phrase, which it called “a kind of stigmatisation”.
The US should “immediately stop its unjustified accusations against China”, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters, adding that the US should first take care of its own matters, referring to the growing outbreak there.
A commentary by the official Xinhua news agency said using “racist and xenophobic names to cast blame for the outbreak on other countries can only reveal politicians’ irresponsibility and incompetence which will intensify virus fears”.
The war of words reignited diplomatic tensions between the two countries, which have tussled over trade and other disputes since Trump took office. His comments were criticised inside the US, with warnings it could incite a backlash against the Asian-American community.
“Our Asian-American communities – people YOU serve – are already suffering. They don’t need you fueling more bigotry,” tweeted New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, whose state is one of the hardest-hit by the virus in the US.
The World Health Organization (WHO) said more cases and deaths had been reported in the rest of the world now than in China.
The new coronavirus was first detected late last year, with China’s own health officials initially saying its source was a live animal market in the central city of Wuhan, whose government had initially tried to cover up the outbreak.
But China has sought to distance itself from the virus, saying the origin is still unknown, while seeking global goodwill by offering aid to countries facing serious outbreaks.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a phone call he initiated with top Chinese official Yang Jiechi, voiced anger that Beijing used official channels “to shift blame for COVID-19 to the United States”, the State Department said.
On Friday, US State Department summoned the Chinese ambassador, Cui Tiankai, to denounce Beijing’s promotion of a conspiracy theory that had gained wide attention on social media.
A senior Chinese foreign ministry official, Zhao Lijian, suggested on Twitter last week that “patient zero” in the global pandemic may have come from the US.
“It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation,” tweeted Zhao, who is known for his provocative statements on social media.
Last week, Republican Congressman Paul Gosar announced his self-quarantine has stirred a debate on by calling the coronavirus “the Wuhan virus”, referring to the Chinese city where the virus is believed to have originated.
Pompeo himself has sought to link China to the global pandemic, repeatedly referring to the “Wuhan virus” phrase despite advice from health professionals that such geographic labels can be stigmatising.
Yang issued a “stern warning to the United States that any scheme to smear China will be doomed to fail,” Xinhua said in its summary of the call with Pompeo.
The key Chinese foreign policy leader “noted that some US politicians have frequently slandered China and its anti-epidemic efforts and stigmatised the country, which has enraged the Chinese people,” Xinhua said.
Yang called on the US side to “correct its wrongful behaviour”.