According to a report from the Daily Beast, Donald Trump is dialing back his anti-China rhetoric after getting a call from China’s leader Xi Jinping who praised and flattered him for his leadership during the growing COVID-19 pandemic.
The report notes that, since the call, the president has now become more hesitant to pin the blame on what he has previously called the “Chinese virus” and the “Wuhan virus,” which, beyond the racist implications, was viewed as an attack on one of the country's biggest trading partners.
"In a phone call to discuss the international health crisis last week, Xi stressed to Trump how decisive, strong, and successful he feels his U.S. counterpart’s public-health and economic responses have been, two U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter said," the Beast reports. "The flattery came at a time when Trump was continuing to experience a deluge of criticism for his administration’s response to the pandemic."
As the Beast's Asawin Suebsaeng and Erin Banco report, "Trump had begun incorporating that language into his public utterances, framing the pandemic as a war whose origins were in China. But lately, he has softened his tone and adopted a more deferential stance toward Xi—whom he routinely calls his good 'friend' and an 'incredible guy — going out of his way to compliment and excuse Beijing for its response to the virus, and to even publicly shrug off new reporting on China’s disinformation apparatus in the midst of the pandemic."
According to one administration official, the charm offensive by Xi is a smart move because the president is well-known for changing his tune when he's on the receiving end of flattery.
“For a long time, the president has enjoyed an epic bromance with Xi,” the unnamed official explained. “If I were them, I would be doing the same thing. Why wouldn’t you try to leverage that relationship with a [U.S.] president who goes on TV so many times to say how great he thinks your guy [Xi] is.”
The report also reveals that there is a tacit agreement, as noted in diplomatic cables, between the U.S. and China that Trump administration officials will stop using "Wuhan virus," instead using the more appropriate "COVID19” or “COVID., with one insider admitting, "There’s an understanding that the department —and the administration as a whole—is going to back away from that terminology.”
"The new tone is particularly notable since, for weeks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had accused China’s leaders of contributing to the global spread of the virus because they took too long to warn the rest of the world of its spread and silenced health-care workers who tried to speak out about it," the report notes. "In his remarks to the press, Pompeo has continuously referred to the coronavirus as the 'Wuhan virus' and brushed off suggestions that such a term was racist. Beijing’s leaders pushed back on the designation, claiming that the terms are xenophobic and inaccurate now that the virus has spread to dozens of countries across the world."
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