White House

Trump Twice Ignored Advisors Who Urged Him in January to Pressure Xi for Coronavirus Transparency

President Donald Trump arrives during the daily coronavirus task force briefing at the White House in Washington, April 18, 2020. (Al Drago/Reuters)

President Trump on two different occasions in January reportedly rejected the advice of advisers who urged him to ask China’s president for more transparency about the nature of the coronavirus.

Trump brushed off his advisers when they urged greater transparency because he thought it might imperil future U.S.-China relations, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday.

Trump’s advisers reportedly argued that a confrontation with China over its handling of the virus would be received well on both sides of the aisle. They proposed a special commission to investigate how the virus originated and examine China’s efforts to control the spread.

The coronavirus outbreak, which began in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has cast a pall over the Trump administration’s efforts to improve relations with the communist country. As the outbreak turned into a global pandemic, U.S. officials have heightened their criticism of China’s early handling of the virus and accused Beijing of mounting a coverup of the extent of the spread within China’s borders.

During the early days of the outbreak in January and February, Trump praised China several times for transparency around the coronavirus.

“The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency,” the president wrote in a January 24 tweet, two days after he touted the administration’s trade deal with China.

Throughout February, Trump praised China’s President Xi for working “very hard” to combat the outbreak.

Since then, however, he has adopted a more critical tone of China’s handling of the virus, slamming the World Health Organization for apparently taking China at its word about the nature and spread of the pandemic.

“The W.H.O. really blew it,” Trump wrote on Twitter in early April. “For some reason, funded largely by the United States, yet very China centric. We will be giving that a good look. Fortunately I rejected their advice on keeping our borders open to China early on. Why did they give us such a faulty recommendation?”

The U.S. intelligence community concluded last month that China deliberately provided incomplete public numbers for coronavirus cases and deaths resulting from the infection. Intelligence agencies have not determined whether the virus escaped from a Wuhan lab, but have said the virus was not “manmade or genetically modified.”

The WHO recommended in January that countries keep borders and trade open even as it dubbed the coronavirus outbreak a global emergency.

In December, when China is believed to have become aware of the virus, local and national officials issued a gag order to labs in Wuhan after scientists there identified a new viral pneumonia, ordering them to halt tests, destroy samples, and conceal the news.

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