Donald Trump has warned that he could “cut off the whole relationship” with China, in the latest escalation of US tensions with Beijing as he increasingly blames China for the global spread of the coronavirus.
“There are many things we could do,” Mr Trump told Fox Business’ Mornings With Maria on Thursday. “We could cut off the whole relationship. Now if you did, what would happen? You’d save $500bn.”
It was unclear what that figure represented. Mr Trump was responding to a question about whether the US should refuse Chinese nationals student visas for sensitive science areas.
The White House in 2018 considered blocking Chinese citizens from receiving student visas, but backed away from the idea pushed by Stephen Miller, a hardline White House aide who is close to Mr Trump.
The president has in recent weeks intensified his criticism of the Chinese government over the way it handled the disclosure of the virus, and has suggested that Beijing would be forced to pay a price.
Mr Trump did not explain what he meant by cutting off ties. But some officials want him to remove Chinese companies from US supply chains.
The president on Thursday also signed an executive order that authorises the US International Development Finance Corporation to provide loans to US industrial companies to shore domestic manufacturing related to the pandemic response.
Pressed on how he could force US companies to move their supply chains, Mr Trump told Fox Business: “One incentive, frankly, is to charge tax for them when they make product outside.”
Mike Pompeo, secretary of state, on Thursday called on China to stop cyber-espionage related to US research into Covid-19, and urged China to be more transparent in providing information about the pandemic.
“While the US and our allies and partners are co-ordinating a collective, transparent response to save lives, the PRC continues to silence scientists, journalists, and citizens, and to spread disinformation, which has exacerbated the dangers of this health crisis,” Mr Pompeo said.
In his Fox Business interview, Mr Trump said he was looking “very strongly” at whether Chinese companies should be allowed to list on US stock exchanges if they did not follow US accounting rules. But he said he knew that there was a downside to such a move.
“What happens is, so we say, ‘you’re going to do this and you’re going to follow the rules of the New York Stock Exchange or Nasdaq’. What do they do? They say, OK, we’ll move to London or we’ll go to Hong Kong.”
Earlier this week, the White House pressured the main US federal employee retirement fund to abandon a plan to invest in Chinese companies, in what was a big victory for China hawks in Washington.
In a letter outlining its concerns, Robert O’Brien, national security adviser, pointed out that the Chinese government does not allow US auditors to audit the accounts of Chinese companies listed on US exchanges.
The president’s latest attack is part of a campaign that many experts believe will escalate as the November election approaches. In his 2016 race, Mr Trump frequently slammed China over its trade policies, but he has failed to make a significant dent in the US trade deficit with the country.
Asked about reports that China wanted to renegotiate the phase one trade deal that was signed earlier this year to ease the trade war between the countries, Mr Trump said he had no intention of reopening the pact.
“They said somewhere . . . they’d like to renegotiate the deal. We’re not going to renegotiate,” Mr Trump said.
The US president added that he was not interested in speaking to Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, in the near future. “I have a very good relationship [with him] but . . . right now I don’t want to speak to him.”
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