To be sure, tensions between Washington and Beijing don’t need to escalate any further, which is why it’s not advisable for the media to give Peter Navarro a platform until things have calmed down.
This is something mainstream news outlets should have learned during the trade war, and it’s even more important now that there’s more at stake than rectifying perceived economic injustices.
Alongside the virus recrimination emanating from the White House, Capitol Hill is turning the screws. Last week, US lawmakers pressed for sanctions against Chinese officials in connection with human rights abuses in Xinjiang, while a separate piece of legislation championed by Lindsey Graham called for additional sanctions in the event Beijing doesn’t provide a satisfactory account of COVID-19’s origins.
At the same time, the White House moved forward with the first capital restrictions aimed at choking off investment to Chinese equities, and put new rules in place designed to further strangle Huawei.
At this juncture, the Trump administration has all but accused China of deliberately causing a pandemic, which in this case is tantamount to charging Beijing with the murder of more than 300,000 people.
So far, Mike Pompeo and other top administration officials have avoided openly contradicting intelligence which indicates COVID-19 was not manmade and was not part of any bioweapons program. But during an abrasive interview with ABC earlier this month, Pompeo danced around the issue under the guise of not hearing the question correctly. It’s possible he really misheard Martha Raddatz, but her efforts to help America’s top diplomat clarify his position only served the muddy already murky waters.
Since then, Chinese state media has lambasted Pompeo on several occasions, and there are now doubts on both sides as to the viability of the trade agreement, which Trump said Friday he’s “lost a little flavor for”.
On Sunday, Navarro took things up another notch. “So you’re saying they deliberately unleashed the virus on the United States — do you have any evidence for that?”, George Stephanopoulos asked.
“I did not say they deliberately did it”, Peter began, before immediately calling COVID-19 “their China virus”.
“Let’s go over the facts here”, he continued. “The virus was spawned in Wuhan province, patient zero was in November”.
So far, so good – at least as far as sticking to something that resembles the truth.
Then, Peter went off the rails a little bit.
“The Chinese, behind the shield of the World Health Organization, for two months hid the virus from the world and then sent hundreds of thousands of Chinese on aircraft to Milan, New York and around the world to seed that”, he said.
“That’s why I say the Chinese did that to Americans”, Navarro added, as though he hadn’t just claimed, without evidence, that Xi Jinping’s government put people on planes in order to “seed” the world with a deadly respiratory illness.
And he wasn’t done. Navarro went on to say that if Chinese efforts to “steal” a potential vaccine from America are successful, Beijing will use it to “profiteer” and “hold the world hostage”.
These remarks are so outlandishly flagrant that you’d have a difficult time believing the administration countenanced them if Trump was holding out any hope of salvaging the trade deal.
China has, in the past, separated Navarro from Trump, singling out Peter (and Pompeo) without calling out the president directly. Perhaps that will be the strategy here too. But if Navarro’s talking points become the official position and find their way into an irritated string of presidential tweets (for example) all bets are off.
Trump has repeatedly alluded to information he says casts doubt on the origins of the pathogen and the president is notorious for promoting conspiracy theories. The only question is whether he’s willing to say China created COVID-19 or otherwise deliberately infected the world.
On Sunday, the Chinese Ministry of Commerce urged the US to cease and desist from provocations aimed at further crippling Huawei and asserted Beijing’s right to defend the interests of Chinese companies.
You can expect the rhetoric to become more shrill in the days ahead.