President Donald Trump and senior officials across multiple government agencies reportedly met Thursday to begin planning a campaign of retaliatory measures against China for its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
Two people with knowledge of the talks spoke with The Washington Post on condition of anonymity, and said Trump has been weighing a number of options to acquire compensation from China for some of the damage caused by coronavirus. U.S. intelligence community officials are reportedly among those joining the administration’s deliberations.
One strategy being considered is to limit China’s sovereign immunity from lawsuits, so as to allow legal claims against China to proceed. George Sorial, a former top executive at the Trump Organization who is currently involved in a class-action lawsuit against China, told the Washington Post he had discussed limiting China’s immunity to lawsuits as one strategy for recovering costs from damages caused by the coronavirus. That strategy may be difficult and would likely require an act of Congress to proceed.
Another idea some have proposed is to cancel U.S. debt held by China. It was not clear if Trump was strongly considering that idea, though when asked about the idea Thursday, Trump said: “you start playing those games and that’s tough.” He warned that canceling interest payments to China, for example, would undermine the value of the U.S. dollar.
As an alternative Trump suggested levying extreme trade penalties, such as tariffs on Chinese imports, to recover around $1 trillion in costs.
Sources told the Washington Post that all the talks have been preliminary and that little formal work has proceeded in the effort. Some officials who spoke to the Post also warned that now is perhaps not a good time to discuss punishments against China, as the country is sending supplies to help Americans.
“Now is just not the right time,” one senior official involved in the talks told the Post. “There will be a time to do it.”
Trump administration officials have raised concerns about the supplies being sent as aid from China. White House Trade Adviser Peter Navarro said China hoarded masks and protective equipment early on and even blocked U.S. multinational companies with factories in China from exporting protective equipment to the U.S. and abroad. Some experts, such as Michael Wessell, of the US-China Economic and Security Review Commission, have warned that China is releasing the supply of medical equipment it previously hoarded “to try to curry goodwill” against growing criticisms. Navarro has also accused China of profiteering off of defective coronavirus equipment they have passed on to other nations.
Chinese officials have been adamant to change the dialogue surrounding coronavirus from one of blame for China to focus on treating the virus as a common enemy.
“The U.S. should know that their enemy is the virus, not China. … They should focus on containment at home and international cooperation, instead of smearing China and shifting the blame onto China,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters Thursday.
In response to U.S. criticism, Chinese state media outlets have targeted several U.S. officials for criticism and suggested U.S. institutions have failed in their response to the virus. Chinese efforts to shift blame have even gone so far as to promote conspiracy theories that the U.S. military created the virus and spread it to China.