Washington: President Donald Trump has hit out at China for being "very secretive" in sharing information on its coronavirus outbreak that has claimed over 13,000 lives globally, asserting that the US and the world would have been better prepared if Beijing gave an "advance warning" about the impending crisis.
Speaking at a press briefing here on Saturday, Trump denied reports that the US intelligence reports in January and February had warned of a coming pandemic, saying America did not know about the outbreak until it started coming out publicly.
"Just so you understand, China is not a beneficiary here. China has thousands and thousands of people. China has gone through hell over this. They've gone through hell. I've had conversations with (Chinese) President Xi (Jinping). I just wish they could have told us earlier. They knew they had a problem earlier. I wish they could have said that," Trump said. For more than a week now, Trump has been addressing the White House press on a daily basis, with each briefing running for more than an hour every day.
"China was very secretive (on coronavirus). Very, very secretive. And that's unfortunate," he told reporters. Trump reiterated that he greatly respects China and shares a very good relationship with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, but expressed his disappointment that Beijing was dishonest and slow to alert the world about the seriousness of coronavirus.
"I have great respect for that country. I have great respect for the leader of that country and like him. He's a friend of mine. But I wish they would have told us earlier, that they were having a problem," he said.
"Because they were having a big problem and they knew it, and I wish they could have given us an advance warning. Because we could have done a lot of things - as an example, some of the things that we're talking about, where we order them as quickly as we can. If we had a two- or three-month difference in time, it would have been much better," Trump said.
As per latest figures available at Worldometers, the United States with 26,686 confirmed cases has emerged as the third most coronavirus infected country after China (81,054) and Italy (53,578).
A total of 340 deaths have been reported in the US, the sixth-worst affected country in terms of fatalities after Italy (4,825), China (3,261), Iran (1,556), Spain (1,378) and France (562).
Trump insisted that the US and the world would have been better prepared but for the more timely information from China.
Trump rejected a report in the leading US daily claiming he had repeatedly ignored warnings as early as January and February that coronavirus could present a huge problem.
"We didn't know about it until it started coming out publicly, but I wish they could have told us earlier about it because we could have come up with a solution," said the president. China, at the same time, he said, has worked very hard. China has lost thousands and thousands of people, he said.
In a tweet, former National Security Advisor John Bolton said that China silenced coronavirus whistleblowers, expelled journalists, destroyed samples, refused CDC help, and concealed counts of deaths and infections. It is a fact there was a massive coverup. China is responsible, he said.
"The world must act to hold them accountable," Bolton demanded. However, the Democratic leadership did not agree with Trump's explanation. "We need to bring people together to fight coronavirus. Blaming China may seem like good politics, but it doesn't solve anything, or mitigate the Trump Administration's failures," said Democratic Congressman Adam Schiff.
"Calling it the 'Chinese virus' only breeds disunity, discrimination and division. Enough already," said Schiff, Chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a tweet early this week alleged that the president had been turning to racist rhetoric to distract from his failures to take the coronavirus early on.
Trump criticised China over the coronavirus this week, saying Beijing should have acted sooner to warn the world and dismissing criticism that his labelling it the "Chinese Virus" was racist. The Trump administration has rejected attempts by Chinese officials to blame the virus on the US military.
Globally, the death toll from the virus has risen to 13,048 with more than 307,277 cases reported in over 165 countries and territories, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.