With the COVID-19 death toll mounting in the United States, President Trump in recent weeks has defended his administration’s response to the virus while criticizing China, where the coronavirus pandemic originated, for misleading global health officials about the scope of the outbreak.
But as COVID-19 first began spreading across the globe, Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s management of the disease.
In an interview with CNBC conducted at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, on Jan. 22, Trump was asked if he trusted the communist government to be transparent about the virus.
“I do, I do,” Trump said. “I have a great relationship with President Xi.”
At the time, the United States had confirmed just one case of the coronavirus.
“I had a great conversation last night with President Xi,” Trump told reporters on Feb. 7, when there were just 11 confirmed U.S. cases of COVID-19. “It’s a tough situation. I think they’re doing a very good job.”
At a reelection rally in New Hampshire on Feb. 10, Trump told his supporters, “I spoke with President Xi and they’re working very, very hard. And I think it’s going to all work out fine.”
“I really believe they are going to have it under control,” Trump said in an interview with Fox Business that same day.
On Feb. 23, Trump again praised Xi’s efforts.
“President Xi loves his country,” Trump said. “He’s working very hard to solve the problem. And he will solve the problem.”
“As far as President Xi, he’s a friend of mine,” Trump said on March 13, when there were more than 2,000 confirmed U.S. cases of COVID-19. “I believe we are dealing in good faith.”
Nine days later, Trump began to change his tune.
“I’m a little upset with China, I’ll be honest with you,” the president said during a March 22 press briefing on the coronavirus. At that point, 33,000 Americans had tested positive for COVID-19, and 421 people had died from it in the U.S. “They should have told us about this.
“We didn’t know about it,” Trump continued. “They knew about it and they should have told us. We could have saved a lot of lives.”
By April 17, the United States had become the epicenter of the pandemic and Trump vented his anger at China. “Let me just put it this way: I’m not happy, OK? I’m not happy,” the president said.
“They didn’t report what was happening inside of China,” he continued. “No, I’m not happy with China.”
“Certainly we didn’t get an early run on it,” Trump said the following day. “It would’ve been helpful if we knew about it earlier.”
Trump’s shift in tone on China comes as his administration faces blistering criticism over its response to the coronavirus, which has now killed more than 46,000 Americans and infected nearly 840,000.
The president has repeatedly pointed to a ban on any foreign national who had been in China from traveling to the United States in defending his response to the virus.
But the measure, which took effect Feb. 2, did not bar American citizens and legal residents or foreign nationals with close family ties to U.S. citizens. According to the New York Times, at least 40,000 people traveled to the United States from China after the limited ban was in place. And Trump’s coronavirus task force did not announce social distancing guidelines until March 16.
At Friday’s coronavirus task force briefing, Trump raised the speculation — so far unproven — that the virus was accidentally released from a laboratory in Wuhan conducting research on the pathogen. (Most epidemiologists believe that the virus originated from bats before jumping to humans.)
The next day, Trump seemed to suggest that he won’t seek to punish China if it turns out the virus was released by mistake.
“A mistake is a mistake,” the president said. “But if China was knowingly responsible, there will be consequences.”
Video produced by Emmi Velez.
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