WASHINGTON • China's ambassador to Washington called for an end to the "blame game" over the coronavirus, in the country's most high-profile response since United States President Donald Trump escalated his criticism of Beijing.
Ambassador Cui Tiankai said in a column published in The Washington Post that allegations blaming China for the pandemic's spread risked "decoupling" the world's two largest economies.
Increased suspicions also threatened to hurt US-China cooperation to fight the disease and restart the global economy.
"It is time to end the blame game," Mr Cui said. "It is time to focus on the disease and rebuild trust between our two countries."
Mr Trump and his top aides have increasingly faulted China for the coronavirus' deadly expansion across the US and around the world, and the President warned last week that raising tariffs on China was "certainly an option" as he considers ways to retaliate over the pandemic.
The pathogen has killed more Americans than the Vietnam War did, pushed the US economy towards recession and clouded Mr Trump's re-election prospects.
While Mr Trump has accused China of a cover-up and trying to hurt him politically, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has gone further, claiming there is "enormous evidence" that the virus escaped from a high-security virology laboratory near the first known outbreak in Wuhan.
Although Mr Cui made no mention of the laboratory claim, he denounced "conspiracy theories" about China's geopolitical intentions. He also rejected calls for China to pay reparations for the damage wrought by the virus, saying similar responsibility was not laid on countries where H1N1 or Aids originated.
"There is no denying that the first known case of Covid-19 was reported in Wuhan," Mr Cui said.
"But this means that Wuhan was only the first victim of the virus. To ask a victim for compensation is simply ridiculous."
Mr Trump's threat to impose more tariffs in retaliation for China's handling of the coronavirus was yesterday rebuked by Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, who said tariffs should not be used as a weapon.
NO PUNISHING THE VICTIM
There is no denying that the first known case of Covid-19 was reported in Wuhan. But this means that Wuhan was only the first victim of the virus. To ask a victim for compensation is simply ridiculous.
MR CUI TIANKAI, China's ambassador to Washington, rejecting calls for China to pay reparations for the damage wrought by the coronavirus.
Tariffs, in general, hurt all parties involved, Ms Hua told reporters at a daily briefing. "So the United States should stop thinking it can use tariffs as a weapon and a big stick to coerce other countries," she said.
Urging the US against trying to divert attention from its own mismanagement of its epidemic by shifting blame onto China, she said: "What has the US done in the past few months? How did it allow the outbreak to develop to the stage today? Is this how a government should be responsible to its people?
"The most urgent task is to control the outbreak in the US and to save as many lives as possible... Saving lives should take precedence over political self-interest."
The US has had some 1.2 million infections and more than 72,000 deaths, the highest known figures in the world.
Mr Cui has been seeking to ratchet down tensions with the US, which have steadily escalated since he became ambassador in 2013.
In March, Mr Cui criticised a Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman's tweets about whether the virus was introduced to Wuhan by US Army athletes.
Last month, he urged cooperation in a similar column published in The New York Times.
Mr Cui's latest op-ed closed with a reference to the US Republican Party's first president, Abraham Lincoln, whom Mr Trump has been invoking as his re-election campaign heats up.
"As President Abraham Lincoln called for 'the better angels' in his inauguration speech, I hope that the wisdom of preceding generations will guide us to choose the right side of history and work for our shared future together," Mr Cui said.