Trump threatens to cut ties with China after COVID-19 heightens trade tensions

President Trump signalled a further deterioration of his relationship with China over the COVID-19 outbreak, telling reporters that he has no interest in speaking to Chinese President Xi Jinping.
calendar icon 15 May 2020
clock icon 3 minute read

Reuters reports that President Trump suggested cutting ties with the world’s second largest economy.

In an interview with Fox Business Network on 14 May, Trump expressed his disappointment with China’s failure to contain the novel coronavirus, saying that the pandemic has cast a pall over the January 2020 trade deal with Beijing. He had previously hailed that agreement as a major achievement.

"They should have never let this happen," Trump said. "So I make a great trade deal and now I say this doesn't feel the same to me. The ink was barely dry and the plague came over. And it doesn't feel the same to me."

Trump's pique extended to Xi, with whom the US president has said repeatedly he has a good relationship.

"But I just – right now I don't want to speak to him," Trump said in the interview, which was taped on Wednesday.

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told reporters in Beijing on 15 May that maintaining a steady bilateral relationship served the interests of both peoples and would be beneficial for world peace and stability.

"Both China and the US should now be cooperating more on fighting the virus together, to cure patients and resume economic production, but this requires the US to want to work with us on this," Zhao said.

Scott Kennedy of Washington's Center for Strategic and International Studies think tank called Trump's remarks "dangerous bravado."

"Avoiding communication is not an effective strategy for solving a crisis that requires global cooperation. And cutting off the economic relationship would badly damage the American economy," he said.

Michael Pillsbury, a China analyst who has worked as an outside adviser to Trump, told Reuters he believed the president was concerned that China not only wanted to re-negotiate the Phase 1 deal, but also had not been meeting goals in purchasing from United States.

Pillsbury said that figures cited by the China Daily had China’s purchases of US products for the first four months of 2020 3 percent lower than the same period last year. "It's not good news for reducing the trade deficit or helping our economy recover from the coronavirus crisis," he said.

China took some additional steps towards the Phase 1 goals on Thursday, buying US soybean oil for the first time in nearly two years and issued customs notices allowing imports of US barley and blueberries.

An executive from Chinese state agriculture trading house COFCO said China was set to speed up purchases of US farm goods to implement the Phase 1 deal.

Read more about this story on Reuters.

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