WASHINGTON (AFP) - US President Donald Trump on Wednesday (May 20) again lashed out at China over the coronavirus pandemic, blaming Beijing for "mass worldwide killing".
His early morning tweet, which also referred to an unidentified "wacko in China", was the latest heated rhetoric from the White House, where Trump is making attacks on Beijing a centrepiece of his November re-election bid.
"It was the 'incompetence of China', and nothing else, that did this mass Worldwide killing," the president tweeted.
The virus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December and spread rapidly around the world, killing more than 323,000 people at the latest count, and triggering huge economic damage.
Trump initially played down the seriousness of the threat and said repeatedly he believed China was addressing the outbreak.
He later pivoted to blaming China for allowing the international spread.
The White House has also suggested, without offering evidence so far, that the virus originated in a laboratory and was accidentally released.
Trump has made repeated but vague threats of retaliation against the chief US economic rival.
He has also threatened to break off US funding to the World Health Organisation over what he says was its assistance to China in covering up the extent of the outbreak.
The diplomatic rift is rapidly opening just after Trump had been celebrating a truce in his trade war with China and comes after months of effusive praise for his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.
Tempers are also fraying in China, where foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian previously provoked Washington's ire by promoting a conspiracy theory that the virus was first brought to China by the US military.
Pushing back at Trump's WHO criticism, Zhao on Wednesday highlighted what he called the "many mistakes and loopholes on the US side, their lies and rumours".https://twitter.com/realDonaldTrump/status/1263085979491016708
"The US has seemingly forgotten that in the past, US leaders have repeatedly and publicly praised China's anti-epidemic work," Zhao said.
Zhao blamed US politicians "who want to shift the blame but can't shift it away."
During a phone call with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, Xi also appeared to swipe at the United States.
"Xi emphasised that China opposes actions that interfere with international anti-epidemic cooperation and harm the world's - and especially developing countries' - efforts to fight the pandemic," state news agency Xinhua reported.
"China is willing to continue to work with the international community, including Bangladesh, to support the WHO's leadership role, promote international joint prevention and control cooperation, and safeguard global public health security," Xi said.
But US secretary of State Mike Pompeo told a news conference on Wednesday that the Covid-19 crisis had ended US illusions of close ties with China, saying "we greatly underestimated the degree to which Beijing is ideologically and politically hostile to free nations".
Pompeo, a close Trump ally, said China was led by a "brutal, authoritarian regime".
"The Chinese Communist Party's response to the Covid-19 outbreak in Wuhan has accelerated our more realistic understanding of Communist China," he said.
"Today, as we all sit here this morning, Beijing continues to deny investigators access to relevant facilities, to withhold live virus samples, to censor discussion on the pandemic within China and much, much more."