(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump said he’ll stop using the term “Chinese virus,” a sign that the U.S. and China want to deescalate their blame game over the pandemic, though his top diplomat kept up accusations that Beijing is waging a misinformation campaign about its origin.
“I don’t regret it, but they accused us of having done it through our soldiers, they said our soldiers did it on purpose, what kind of a thing is that?” Trump said in an interview Tuesday with Fox News. “Look, everyone knows it came out of China, but I decided we shouldn’t make any more of a big deal out of it. I think I made a big deal. I think people understand it. But that all began when they said our soldiers started it. Our soldiers had nothing to do with it.”
Trump cited the Ebola virus and Lyme disease as other illnesses named for their location of discovery. “They do name it after places, it came from China,” he said. He also said that he maintained a “very good” relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that China had been though “a lot.”
“They lost thousands of people. They’ve been through hell,” he said.
Trump’s comments came after an unusual public spat between two top Chinese diplomats, which pointed to differences in Beijing over how to handle tensions with Trump. Chinese Ambassador to the U.S. Cui Tiankai reiterated to “Axios on HBO” earlier this week that he was opposed to promoting theories that the coronavirus had originated in a U.S. military lab. He said last month that spreading such theories would be “crazy,” even though a foreign ministry spokesman had repeatedly floated the idea on Twitter.
The virus was first found in humans in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has spread rapidly across the world, with more than 420,000 cases and almost 19,000 dead. Trump, who’s facing an election this year, has sought to blame China as the outbreak slams global stock markets and threatens to push the world into recession.
At a briefing on Wednesday, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said “this isn’t a time for blame, this is a time to solve the global problem” even as he again referred to the “Wuhan virus.”
He condemned “the disinformation campaign that the Chinese Communist Party is engaged in to try to deflect from what has really taken place here.”
China said Wednesday that it firmly opposed “stigmatization” and urged the U.S. to work with it to combat the pandemic.
“The virus knows no borders or ethnicity. All people must work together to defeat it,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing. “We hope the U.S. can join China and the international community in dealing with the challenge together and upholding global public health and security.”
On Tuesday, Trump also tweeted his support for Asian-Americans, who have increasingly faced racist taunts and incidents in recent weeks as the illness spreads across the U.S. and Republican politicians highlight its “Chinese” origins. The World Health Organization named the disease COVID-19 -- short for “coronavirus disease 2019” -- in part to avoid stigmatizing any one place or group for a virus that poses risks to everyone.
“It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus.... is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form,” he wrote.
Former Vice President Joe Biden, who holds a commanding lead over U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary, told MSNBC that he was glad Trump “finally got there” on the issue.
“It was long overdue of him to say that he’s not going to put up with this xenophobia,” Biden said. “It’s strange coming from him” but “happy he did it.”
(Updates with Pompeo comments in first and seventh paragraphs)
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