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China-US relations: Xi rejected Trump’s offers of help in early days of coronavirus outbreak, Woodward says

·4 min read

Chinese President Xi Jinping asked his US counterpart Donald Trump not to spark panic over Covid-19 and rejected several offers by Trump to send medical experts to China to help investigate and contain the virus, according to a book by journalist Bob Woodward to be released on Tuesday.

In Rage, his second book about Trump’s presidency, Woodward said US health officials monitored the virus outbreak from late December.

American officials maintained regular contact with their Chinese counterparts and offered to send a medical team to the virus-hit area to help but their proposals were rejected by their Chinese peers.

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Bob Woodward's book Rage on US President Donald Trump.
Bob Woodward's book Rage on US President Donald Trump.

Rage contains details of the two historic phone conversations between the world leaders this year.

During a 30-minute phone conversation with Xi on February 6, Trump himself raised the offer of help, Woodward said. Trump offered several times to send US medical experts to China to “help 100 per cent”, but his suggestions were rebuffed by Xi.

“We would love to help you and wipe this out. We want to eradicate this virus and the people at CDC [the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention] are ready to, but they need visas,” Trump told Xi, according to the book.

Xi thanked Trump but sidestepped the request. He said he was “personally overseeing” the country’s efforts to combat of the virus and suggested the US take part in a mission by the World Health Organisation to China.

Trump said help from the US would arrive if Xi asked for it.

Xi told the US president China was being open and transparent and that its actions were safeguarding not just China but also the world.

“I ask the United States and your officials not to take excessive actions that would create further panic,” Xi said, criticising US travel restrictions despite the WHO’s suggestion against overreaction.

In the weeks after that call, Beijing and Washington went on to exchange barbs on the origin and handling of the virus. Zhao Lijian, a spokesman for China’s foreign ministry who is known for his combative Wolf Warrior style of diplomacy, hinted that the virus had been brought to China by the US military.

In the second presidential phone conversation on March 27, Trump said Zhao’s comment was “ridiculous” while Xi said US officials should refrain from using racist anti-China comments borrowed from Trump.

According to Rage, Xi advised Trump that lockdowns, quarantine and social distancing were effective in containing the virus, and early testing, early quarantine and early treatment were helpful.

Chinese state news agency Xinhua took a less confrontational position than reported by Woodward about the first Xi-Trump phone conversation. It said China hoped the US would calmly assess the pandemic.

Of the March 27 call, Xinhua reported China’s handling of the pandemic as “open, transparent and responsible”, and said China was willing to share its experiences in combating the virus.

The two world leaders have not spoken since that phone conversation and the bilateral relationship has continued its free fall.

The Trump administration has publicly blamed China for failing to curb the spread of the virus and letting it move beyond China’s borders as well as making claims that it covered up vital information about the virus. Trump also said the WHO moved too slowly in its virus response and was protecting China. In April, he declared the US was suspending its funding of the agency.

The two countries have been at loggerheads over the South China Sea, announced tit-for-tat closure of diplomatic missions and revoked visas for journalists from the other’s country.

The US is targeting Chinese hi-tech companies and has imposed sanctions over the national security law in Hong Kong and the allegations of human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

Trump had previously confronted Xi about Made in China 2025, a strategy for Beijing to foster home-grown prowess in crucial industrial and hi-tech sectors, Woodward wrote in Rage.

“That’s very insulting to me,” Trump told Xi, according to the book. Trump also said to Woodward that he was “breaking China’s ass on trade”.

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