NEW DELHI: The US and China were engaged in a war of words on Tuesday with both sides demanding that the other stop smearing their reputation over the outbreak of the novel coronavirus. While US President Donald Trump referred to the pathogen as the "Chinese Virus", Beijing strongly objected to the description.
The exchange comes at a time of high tensions between the US and China on a range of issues -- from trade and human rights to China’s military muscle flexing in the South China Sea.
After warning of a possible recession on Monday, the US president in a Twitter post said: “The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus. We will be stronger than ever before!"
China’s condemnation of the characterization came within hours.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Trump should take care of his own matters first, news reports said. “Some US politicians have tried to stigmatise China … which China strongly condemns," he said at a press briefing on Tuesday. “We urge the US to stop this despicable practice. We are very angry and strongly oppose it (the tweet)," he was quoted as saying by Reuters news agency.
The angry exchange came as the number of cases of COVID-19 spiraled to more than 180,000 in 155 countries. The first cases of the SARS-CoV2 infections were reported from China in late December. According to the US based Johns Hopkins live dashboard of the number of cases of COVID-19 across the world, more than 7,000 have been reported since December.
Some quarters in the US had previously referred to the pandemic as the "Chinese coronavirus," but Trump’s Twitter post marks the first time the president has said it himself. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo too has reportedly referred to SARS-CoV2 as the "Wuhan virus" despite warnings that such labeling could be deemed stigmatization.
The Sino-US clash came on the day the WHO said more cases and deaths had been reported in the rest of the world than in China.
It also followed a Chinese official last week suggesting that the patient who was first detected with the Coronavirus came from the US. Pompeo, in a phone call with member of Political Bureau of the Communist Party of China (CPC) Central Committee Yang Jiechi, strongly objected to Beijing trying "to shift blame for COVID-19 to the United States," the State Department said in a statement.
Pompeo "stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumors, but rather a time for all nations to come together to fight this common threat", the US statement added.
Separately, the State Department on Friday summoned the Chinese ambassador, Cui Tiankai, to register its protest over Beijing's seeming attempts to promote a conspiracy theory. Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, in Twitter posts last week suggested that "patient zero" in the global pandemic may have come from the United States -- not the Chinese metropolis of Wuhan.
"It might be US army who brought the epidemic to Wuhan. Be transparent! Make public your data! US owe us an explanation," Zhao had said in his Twitter post.
According to China’s official Xinhua news agency, Yang in his conversation with Pompeo, issued a "stern warning to the United States that any scheme to smear China will be doomed to fail."
Yang also "noted that some US politicians have frequently slandered China and its anti-epidemic efforts and stigmatized the country, which has enraged the Chinese people", Xinhua said adding Yang had also “urged the US side to immediately correct its wrongful behavior and stop making groundless accusations against China".