Donald Trump stepped up his attack on China over the coronavirus pandemic, appearing to blame Chinese president Xi Jinping for a campaign of "disinformation" that has helped spread Covid-19 around the world.
In a rare direct shot at his Chinese counterpart, the US president said: "It all comes from the top. They could have easily stopped the plague, but they didn’t!"
Mr Trump has been careful to maintain his relationship with Mr Xi, singling him out for praise early on in the crisis. He has intensified attacks on China, meanwhile, for covering up the scale of the initial outbreak and failing to prevent its spread.
He said on Wednesday night that China was "trying desperately to deflect the pain and carnage that their country spread throughout the world. Its disinformation and propaganda attack on the United States and Europe is a disgrace" before appearing to turn on Mr Xi.
It comes as China opened its annual ‘rubber stamp’ parliamentary sessions Thursday after a delay of nearly three months due to the pandemic.
The weeklong event – heavy on political spectacle and light on actual legislating – is largely aimed at shoring up Mr Xi’s power as leader of the Communist Party following mass protests in Hong Kong and the coronavirus outbreak. It is also his first opportunity to lay out policy plans, reprioritise sidelined goals, and outline a growth roadmap.
The White House on Wednesday night issued a broad-scale attack on Beijing's predatory economic policies, military buildup, disinformation campaigns and human rights violations.
The 20-page report expands on Trump's get-tough rhetoric that he hopes will resonate with voters angry about China's handling of the disease outbreak that has left tens of millions of Americans out of work.
"The media's focus on the current pandemic risks missing the bigger picture of the challenge that's presented by the Chinese Communist Party," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Wednesday before the White House released its report.
Earlier in the day Mr Trump lashed out at China on Twitter over the coronavirus pandemic, blaming Beijing for "mass Worldwide killing."
The early morning tweet, which also referred to an unidentified "wacko in China," in a further sign that Trump is making attacks on Beijing a centerpiece of his November reelection bid.
"It was the 'incompetence of China', and nothing else, that did this mass Worldwide killing," the president tweeted.
The virus first appeared in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December and spread rapidly around the world, killing more than 323,000 people at the latest count, and triggering huge economic damage.
Mr Trump initially played down the seriousness of the threat and said repeatedly that China was addressing the outbreak, marking our Mr Xi for personal praise.
The US president passed up recent opportunities to criticise the Mr Xi directly. During a Fox News town hall event May 3, Trump described the Chinese president as a “strong” leader with whom he had a good relationship.
The White House has also suggested, without offering evidence so far, that the virus originated in a laboratory and was accidentally released. Trump has made repeated but vague threats of retaliation against the chief US economic rival.
He has also threatened to break off US funding to the World Health Organization or WHO over what he says was its assistance to China in covering up the extent of the outbreak.
China offered a low-key rebuttal to United States President Donald Trump's accusation of mass killing on Thursday, with a foreign ministry official insisting the country did its best to protect lives during the pandemic.
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular press briefing: "We have persisted in speaking the truth, presenting the truth and speaking with reason, doing our utmost to protect the lives and health of the people."
Zhao reiterated China's stance that it has "always had an open, transparent and responsible attitude" as it battled the pandemic.
He added the country has been doing its best to promote international cooperation against the pathogen.
China has blamed Washington for using Beijing as a scapegoat to cover for its own virus mishandling.