- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2020

President Trump on Tuesday denounced China for falsely claiming the U.S. Army spread the deadly coronavirus in China, as Beijing condemned Mr. Trump’s use of the phrase “Chinese Virus” and said it was expelling more U.S. journalists from the country.

Asked Tuesday about a tweet the day before referring to the virus, Mr. Trump told reporters, “Well, China was putting out information which was false that our military did this to them.”

“That was false and rather than having an argument, I said I had to call it where it came from. It did come from China. So I think it’s a very accurate term,” he said.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week also criticized the Chinese Communist Party for spreading the false notion the U.S. created the virus.

Washington and Beijing have escalated the rhetorical war over the illness in recent days, with Chinese disinformation efforts suggesting that American soldiers attending a military competition in Wuhan last fall brought the virus to the country, and Chinese officials slamming U.S. criticisms of its handling of the initial stages of the COVID-19 outbreak.

In Beijing, the Foreign Ministry announced Tuesday that it was expelling journalists for The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post. The journalists, whose work permits were to expire at the end of the year, must to leave the country in four days.

The Chinese were retaliating for the Trump administration’s recent designation of five state-run Chinese media outlets in the United States as foreign government entities covered by State Department restrictions on travel and real estate.

That in turn was retaliation for China’s expulsion of three Wall Street Journal journalists over an opinion column critical of China’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak.

“The U.S. approach to the Chinese media is based on Cold War thinking and ideological prejudice,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement Tuesday.

At the State Department, Mr. Pompeo said the expulsions were unjustified and that China lacks press freedoms enjoyed by news reporters in the U.S.

“We know that that kind of freedom doesn’t exist inside of China,” he said. “Indeed the Chinese will tell you that they want more information, people to know more about the country, and yet they continue to take actions like the one you see today where they deny the world the capacity to know what is really going on inside of their country.”

The Chinese news organizations sanctioned by the State Department “were part of Chinese propaganda outlets,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Mr. Pompeo warned the Chinese will be held accountable for their role in spreading lies about the new virus that originated in Wuhan, China.

“Look, this information campaign that they are waging is designed to shift responsibility,” he said.

While saying “now is not the time for recrimination,” Mr. Pompeo said the time will come when the U.S. evaluates how the world responded to the pandemic.

“We know this much, we know that the first government to be aware of the Wuhan virus was the Chinese government,” he said, adding that Chinese officials delayed alerting the world even after they learned of the potential health risk.

China “had a responsibility to do this not only for Americans and Italians and South Koreans and Iranians who are now suffering but for their own people as well,” Mr. Pompeo said.

Asked about Mr. Trump’s virus tweet, Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang expressed “strong indignation and objection to such stigmatization.”

The Communist Party-affiliated Global Times newspaper said Mr. Trump’s tweet signaled a new round of tensions.

“The improper nomenclature from Trump and his ilk may be just the start of escalated China-U.S. tensions in a wide range of fields like trade, economic exchanges and politics,” the paper said. “In this sense, China needs to be prepared for the re-escalation of China-U.S. trade conflict in the coming period.”

But naming a virus after its place of origin is not unusual. Several other dangerous viruses are named for the location where they broke out, including the Ebola virus named after the Ebola River in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the Marburg virus after a city in Germany, and Middle East Respiratory Syndrome.

• Bill Gertz can be reached at bgertz@washingtontimes.com.

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