“I’m not interested in that”, Donald Trump said Monday, when queried on the possibility of renegotiating the Sino-US trade pact signed to much fanfare in January.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing are running high amid allegations China is obscuring the origins of the coronavirus, which Mike Pompeo has repeatedly suggested may have escaped from the Wuhan Institute of Virology in a lab accident.
Chinese officials vehemently deny any coverup.
On Monday, the Global Times, citing sources, said the implicit and explicit allegations around the virus stoked “anger among Chinese trade insiders”. Advisors to the talks have suggested China consider voiding the agreement or reworking it in the country’s favor.
The headlines came barely three days after Bob Lighthizer, Steven Mnuchin and Liu He held a phone call aimed at pacifying nervous markets and reassuring the public that both sides are committed to the agreement, which brought an end to months of tit-for-tat escalations, even as it left the majority of punitive levies in place.
“Let’s see if they lived up to the deal they signed”, Trump went on to say Monday, before parroting one of his favorite talking points. “China’s been taking advantage of the United States for many, many years”.
The president also raised eyebrows during an exchange with CBS reporter Weijia Jiang, who Trump told to “ask China”, when she suggested the White House’s characterization of COVID-19 testing as a global competition may be a bit uncouth under the macabre circumstances.
“Why is this a global competition to you when Americans are losing their lives every day?”, she wondered.
“Maybe that’s a question you should ask China”, Trump said, enunciating for effect.
“Why are you saying that to me, specifically?”, Weijia asked, already knowing the answer.
“I’m saying it to anybody who would ask a nasty question like that”, the president responded.
Trump then abruptly ended the proceedings after CNN’s Kaitlan Collins attempted, unsuccessfully, to ask her own set of questions.
This is just further evidence to support the contention that another escalation between the world’s two largest economies is in the offing. Monday’s press event was an opportunity for Trump to downplay tensions and otherwise defuse the situation, which is at the forefront of investor concerns. He did not avail himself of that opportunity.
This wouldn’t be news had Trump not initially praised China, lauding his friendship with Xi even as it became apparent that Beijing’s commitment to transparency around the outbreak had its limits.
In the simplest possible terms, Trump’s stance towards China when it comes to COVID-19 has changed materially over the past two months, as the White House looks to find a scapegoat for the downturn in the US economy.
Trump has stopped short of directly implicating Xi, and Chinese state media have similarly refrained from criticizing Trump by name, instead directing their propaganda at the State department.
But it feels like just a matter of time before something goes “wrong” with this situation, especially as the administration feels the heat for what Democrats will doubtlessly continue to characterize (rightly or wrongly) as a bungled response to the epidemic.
It doesn’t help that the virus is now affecting the schedules of America’s top health officials, and even the vice president, who tested negative again, apparently, after self-isolating over the weekend.