US President Donald Trump on Tuesday said his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping has frayed in the wake of the novel coronavirus pandemic and that he has not spoken to his Chinese counterpart for a long time.
“I used to have a very good relationship with him,” Trump told Fox Sports Radio in an interview, citing their phase one trade deal hammered out last year and signed in early 2020. “I had a great relationship with President Xi. I like him, but I don’t feel the same way now.”
Trump said his feelings changed amid COVID-19 pandemic.
“I certainly feel differently. I had a very, very good relationship, and I haven’t spoken to him in a long time.”
Trump, who is seeking re-election in the November 3 election, made challenging China a key part of his 2016 presidential campaign and touted his friendly ties with Xi during much of his first term in office as he sought to make good on his trade deal promises.
But he said on Tuesday that the fallout from the outbreak was worse than the conflict over trade. “This is a thousand times the trade deal what happened with all of the death and … the world had to shut down. It’s a disgrace,” he told Fox.
First reports of the virus emerged from China in late 2019 and it has now infected more than 20 million people and killed at least 735,369 worldwide, including about 5.1 million cases and at least 163,681 dead in the US, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally.
Trump has repeatedly referred to the novel coronavirus as the “China virus” or, at times, the “Wuhan virus”, which critics and rights activists have called “racist”.
US-China ties have also frayed over Beijing’s crackdown in Hong Kong and the disputed South China Sea, among other issues.
Asked about the arrest of pro-democracy advocates in Hong Kong under China’s new security law, as well as issues over Taiwan, Trump pointed to his administration’s steps to end Hong Kong’s special trading status.
He did not address the arrest of Hong Kong’s Apple Daily owner Jimmy Lai, one of the city’s most prominent activists.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House NSA Robert O’Brien on Monday said the US was troubled by Lai’s arrest.