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Deputy national security adviser Matthew Pottinger insisted Monday the United States is not considering “punitive measures” against China over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic, breaking with more aggressive rhetoric toward Beijing from other Trump administration officials.
“The U.S. isn’t looking at punitive measures here,” Pottinger said during a symposium on U.S.-China relations sponsored by the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs.
“What President Trump is looking at doing is continuing with the policy that he ran on, the policy that he’s implemented — which is to have a reciprocal and fair relationship with China,” Pottinger continued. “Not one in which the U.S. allows ourselves to be taken advantage of in the hope that somehow China will just automatically liberalize.”
Senior administration officials in recent weeks have issued stern admonishments and stark warnings regarding China’s management of the initial coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan — charging that Beijing’s ruling Communist party did not adequately inform other nations about the disease.
“I don’t think there's any question about it,” Trump said during a Fox News town hall on Sunday, when asked whether China misled the international community.
An intelligence report from the Department of Homeland Security, viewed by POLITICO, concluded with moderate confidence that the government of China likely withheld information about the severity of the coronavirus so it would have time to hoard medical supplies.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo seemed to confirm the report’s findings in an interview Sunday, and also claimed there is a “significant amount of evidence” to support an assertion promulgated by the president and some conservative lawmakers that the coronavirus originated in a Wuhan virology lab.
Those remarks from the secretary came after Pompeo issued a direct threat to Beijing two weeks ago, telling Fox News he was “very confident that the Chinese Communist Party will pay a price for what they did here, certainly from the United States.”
Asked Monday about various potential retaliatory actions — including stripping China of its sovereign immunity and opening the nation up to U.S. lawsuits — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Trump “is reviewing all these issues, very, very carefully.”
“As he said, he’s not happy that they didn’t let people in earlier to study this, to know what was going on,” Mnuchin told Fox Business. “He’s been very clear. He’s working with the intel agencies to understand what they knew and what they didn’t know.”
White House trade adviser Peter Navarro also hammered Beijing for its alleged duplicity Monday, referring to the coronavirus as the “China virus” and promoting the slogan, “China lied, people died.”
“What did China know? When did they know it? Did the Communist party bleach the wet market to hide something? Did they make scientists disappear from those labs in Wuhan to hide something?” Navarro told Fox News. “I mean, it’s a tawdry little thing.”