WASHINGTON (BLOOMBERG) - US President Donald Trump said he would stop using the term "Chinese virus", the latest indication that the United States and China are seeking to de-escalate their blame game over the deadly pandemic.
"I don't regret it, but they accused us of having done it through our soldiers, they said our soldiers did it on purpose, what kind of a thing is that?" Mr Trump said in an interview on Tuesday (March 25) with Fox News.
"Look, everyone knows it came out of China, but I decided we shouldn't make any more of a big deal out of it. I think I made a big deal. I think people understand it. But that all began when they said our soldiers started it. Our soldiers had nothing to do with it."
Mr Trump cited the Ebola virus and Lyme disease as other illnesses named for their location of discovery.
"They do name it after places, it came from China," he said.
He also said that he maintained a "very good" relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and that China had been through "a lot".
"They lost thousands of people. They've been through hell," he said.
Mr Trump's comments came after an unusual public spat between two top Chinese diplomats, which pointed to differences in Beijing over how to handle tensions with Mr Trump.
Chinese Ambassador to the US Cui Tiankai reiterated to "Axios on HBO" earlier this week that he was opposed to promoting theories that the coronavirus had originated in a US military lab.
He said last month that spreading such theories would be "crazy", even though a foreign ministry spokesman had repeatedly floated the idea on Twitter.
The virus was first found in humans in the central Chinese city of Wuhan late last year and has spread rapidly across the world, with more than 420,000 cases and almost 19,000 dead.
Mr Trump, who's facing an election this year, has sought to blame China as the outbreak slams global stock markets and threatens to push the world into recession.
On Tuesday, Mr Trump also tweeted his support for Asian-Americans, who have increasingly faced racism in recent weeks as the illness spreads across the US and Republican politicians highlight its "Chinese" origins.
The World Health Organisation named the disease Covid-19 - short for "coronavirus disease 2019" - in part to avoid stigmatising any one place or group for a virus that poses risks to everyone.
"It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world. They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus.... is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form," he wrote.
Former vice-president Joe Biden, who holds a commanding lead over Senator Bernie Sanders in the Democratic presidential primary, told MSNBC that he was glad Mr Trump "finally got there" on the issue.
"It was long overdue of him to say that he's not going to put up with this xenophobia," Mr Biden said. "It's strange coming from him... happy he did it - happy he did it."