President Donald Trump on Tuesday said that the Chinese government was deliberately spreading false claims that the United States developed COVID-19 as a bioweapon.
“China was putting out information which was false, that our military gave this to them. That was false. Rather than having an argument, I had to call it where it came from. It did come from China,” Trump said in a Tuesday press conference.
He appeared to be referring to a pair of tweets (1, 2) posted Thursday by Lijian Zhao, deputy director general of the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s Information Department. Zhao urged readers to read a pair of articles by the Centre for Research on Globalization, a Canadian site that frequently publishes pro-Russian disinformation and misinformation. The articles claimed that the virus had originated outside of China, and cited Global Times, an outlet of the Chinese Communist Party’s People’s Daily newspaper
Zhao’s tweet was retweeted by China’s ambassadors to South Africa, the Maldives, Botswana, Suriname, and Iran; as well as the official Twitter accounts of the Chinese embassies in France, Chad, Jordan, Uganda, and Cameroon.
Trump was answering a question about his use of the term “Chinese virus,” in a tweet on Monday and whether it might lead to greater discrimination against and stigmatization of Asians and Asian Americans. The president didn’t answer that question. Instead, he pointed to the Chinese government’s own disinformation on the virus.
“I think saying that our military gave it to them creates a stigma,” he said.
On Monday, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned his Chinese counterpart about spreading what he called “outlandish rumors,” according to State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus.
Spoke today with Director Yang Jiechi about disinformation and outlandish rumors that are being spread through official PRC channels.— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) March 16, 2020
In a phone call with Yang Jiechi, the director of China’s Office of Foreign Affairs, Pompeo “conveyed strong U.S. objection to [China’s] efforts to shift blame for COVID-19 to the United States,” Ortagus said.
Later, in a briefing with reporters at the State Department, Pompeo said “The disinformation campaign that [China is] waging is designed to shift responsibility. Now is not the time for recrimination. Now is the time to solve this global pandemic and work to take down risks to Americans and people all across the world.”