Donald Trump said he not spoken to Chinese premier Xi Jinping during the coronavirus crisis – and that the US could “cut off” its relationship with China altogether.
“I have a very good relationship,” he said, “but I just – right now I don’t want to speak to him. I don’t want to speak to him.”
The president was being interviewed outside the White House by Fox Business’s Maria Bartiromo, who went on to ask if the US should stop issuing visas to Chinese students coming to study hi-tech subjects including quantum computing and AI.
However, Mr Trump’s animus seems to come down largely to money, and specifically to the trade deal he struck with the Chinese.
“There are many things we could do,” said the president, “we could do things, we could cut off the whole relationship. Now if you did, what would happen? You’d save $500bn.
“Look, at what point – and I’ve said this for years, I’ve said it with other countries also, China’s not the only country ripping us off.”
There are already moves underway to rein in US investments in China, albeit only incrementally. This week, the US government’s main retirement fund, which manages hundreds of billions of dollars in assets for nearly six million workers, scrapped a plan to shift investments into Chinese companies. Mr Trump had complained that the move could jeopardise national security.
Bringing the conversation back to coronavirus after a long Trump ramble about NATO, Ms Bartiromo asked about China’s allowing people to travel before “cornering the market” on protective equipment.
Mr Trump cut her off. “That’s not the big thing. The big thing is they should have never let this happen. So I make a great trade deal, and now I say, ‘It just doesn’t feel the same to me.’ The ink was barely dry, and the plague came over. And it doesn’t feel the same to me.”
For all his complaints about China’s behaviour, Mr Trump stayed agnostic about a conspiracy theory that the virus escaped from a Wuhan virology lab – a theory propagated by various public figures on the right despite an absence of evidence.
“Whether it came from the lab or came from the bats, it all came from China. And they should have stopped it. They could have stopped it at that source. I call it the source.”
Ms Bartiromo wrapped up the interview with a blunt question.
“How are you going to have a partnership with China when you can’t trust anything they say and do?”
“It may be hard to do,” said Mr Trump. “It’s okay, it’s okay with me. May be hard to do, but that’s okay with me.”