Donald Trump’s claim that coronavirus came from a Wuhan lab has been backed by his secretary of state – as the blame game between the US and China continues in full swing.
Mike Pompeo has failed to provide any of the “enormous evidence” he says proves that COVID-19 originated in a Chinese lab.
This has angered Beijing, which continues to fire back.
Chinese media have been avoiding direct criticism of the US president, and instead hit out at Mr Pompeo – a China hawk – accusing him of losing his “moral compass”.
The editor of state-run tabloid The Global Times, Hu Xijin, said Mr Pompeo should present his “evidence” to the world.
US intelligence previously made its assessment public, saying it agrees with the “wide scientific consensus” that COVID-19 was not manmade, before Mr Trump and Mr Pompeo made their unproven claims.
The Trump administration is not known for its love of scientific consensus – especially in an election year that is also seeing the president’s prize-jewel economy slide into a coma.
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Blaming China works because China’s handling of the crisis has been far from exemplary – it has been accused of silencing whistleblowers, withholding information and acting too late.
But bad handling from China and America is not mutually exclusive.
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Mr Trump continues to herald his own efforts in tackling the crisis, rejecting any criticism that he acted too slowly.
Members of his administration have appeared tone deaf at times in their attempts to back the president in his claims.
His son-in-law and senior adviser, Jared Kushner, recently called the US response a “success story” – a cringeworthy comment as the number of deaths is now close to 70,000, with cases surpassing one million.
This devastating crisis would be no picnic for any president, but it cannot be overstated how much the impact of coronavirus on the economy has delivered Mr Trump his worst nightmare.
He was banking on the old certainty that even in the face of his numerous controversies and weak poll numbers, people would enter November ballot boxes with their pockets as the priority.
The blame game was kicked off by China when it publicised its own conspiracy theory that the virus had originated in the US and was brought to China by American soldiers.
But now the Trump administration seems more than happy to keep the war of words going.
Mr Trump had initially wavered on China’s culpability, frequently praising President Xi Jinping in the early days of the outbreak.
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Now he’s all in on blaming America’s main economic rival.
The 2020 election could see Donald Trump and Joe Biden trying to out-tough each other on China.
Mr Trump’s campaign is already test-driving this strategy, calling the presumptive democratic nominee “Beijing Biden”.
Blaming China is also a strategy that could ultimately serve useful in the “wartime president” narrative.
With this strategy, it would promote the idea that Mr Trump did the best he could with a catastrophic pandemic dumped on America’s doorstep by a foreign enemy.