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U.S. President Donald Trump upped the ante in his feud with the Chinese government on Thursday, claiming that Beijing is criticizing the U.S. coronavirus response because it wants Trump to lose the 2020 election.
Trump made the claim in an interview with Reuters published Wednesday evening echoing a leaked GOP memo that urged Republican to “attack China” as a re-election strategy.
But on Thursday morning, China’s foreign ministry hit back, saying the U.S. president was simply trying to deflect attention away from his own failed response to the coronavirus.
Beijing claimed Thursday that the U.S. government has been trying to shift focus from its poor performance on handling COVID-19, but these allegations would not erase China's achievement in combating the virus.
“The U.S. presidential election is an internal affair, we have no interest in interfering in it,” Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters during a daily briefing. “We hope the people of the U.S. will not drag China into its election politics.”
The escalating diplomatic spat between Beijing and Washington comes as both administrations try desperately to deflect criticism of their handling of the outbreak in their respective countries.
Trump, who has been criticized by Democrats, public health experts, and even members of his own party, for failing to adequately prepare for an outbreak that has now killed over 60,000 Americans, says China should have been more transparent about the threat COVID-19 posed to the rest of the world.
He said the country’s efforts to now place the blame on Washington for the soaring death count was an indication that Beijing was trying to influence the outcome of November’s vote.
“China will do anything they can to have me lose this race,” Trump said, adding that Beijing could prefer his Democratic opponent Joe Biden in the White House as it would ease the pressure Trump has placed on China over trade and other issues.
“They’re constantly using public relations to try to make it like they’re innocent parties,” he said of Chinese officials.
The president added that the U.S. trade deal with China had been “upset very badly” by the economic fallout from the pandemic. In a thinly-veiled threat towards Beijing, Trump said he had a number of options for possible economic retaliation against China. “I can do a lot,” he said.
Trump’s comments about China and its handling of the coronavirus pandemic have swung wildly in recent months: in January he heaped praise on President Xi Jinping and his government in January, and earlier this month he shared conspiracy theories about the virus originating in a government-run lab in Wuhan. In late March, Trump and Xi reportedly agreed during a phone call to a “truce” in their war of words. That truce now appears to be over.
Trump’s comments were in line with a leaked Republican party memo published by Politico last week, in which the GOP was advised candidates to aggressively target Beijing in their public remarks on the pandemic, as part of their re-election strategy.
China too has been widely criticized by human rights activists and public health experts for silencing whistleblowers and failing to react more quickly to reports of an outbreak in Wuhan in December. Beijing has mounted a global propaganda campaign to try and convince the world that it is blameless and is in fact helping save the world from the coronavirus with medical supplies and other aid.
Cover: President Donald Trump speaks about reopening the country, during a roundtable with industry executives, in the State Dinning Room of the White House, Wednesday, April 29, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
This article originally appeared on VICE US.