President Donald Trump has in recent days criticized how China handled the coronavirus outbreak, saying Thursday that the “world is paying a very big price for what they did.”
But as the virus spread rapidly across China in the month of February, Trump repeatedly praised Chinese President Xi Jinping’s response to the crisis, saying he’s handled it “really well” and that he was doing “a very good job with a very, very tough situation.”
A CNN KFile review of Trump’s public statements identified at least 12 occasions in which the President praised or projected confidence about China’s response to coronavirus.
This shift in tone from Trump represents a broader change in the President’s view of China, as he attempts to deflect responsibility for the ongoing global pandemic to Beijing’s initial handling of the crisis. It also shows how the President sought to downplay the threat of the virus in the weeks before the uptick of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the US.
CNN White House correspondent Jeremy Diamond on Saturday asked Trump about his shift in attitude toward China.
“China has worked very hard,” he said. “China was transparent at that time but when we saw what happened, they could have been transparent much earlier than they were.”
He went on to criticize what he said was China’s waiting to tell the US.
“They knew they had a problem earlier. I wish they could have said that,” he said.
A spokesperson for the White House did not return a request for comment.
Early praise for China
“China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus,” Trump tweeted on January 24, “The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!”
Speaking on Fox News on January 30, Trump said China was “working very hard” to stop the coronavirus outbreak.
“And we are in great shape,” he said. “China is not in great shape right now, unfortunately. But they’re working very hard. We’ll see what happens. But we’re working very closely with China and other countries.”
Complimented the Chinese President over his handling of the crisis
In a series of tweets on February 7, Trump again praised the Chinese President’s handling of the crisis.
“Just had a long and very good conversation by phone with President Xi of China. He is strong, sharp and powerfully focused on leading the counterattack on the Coronavirus. He feels they are doing very well, even building hospitals in a matter of only days. Nothing is easy, but he will be successful, especially as the weather starts to warm & the virus hopefully becomes weaker, and then gone. Great discipline is taking place in China, as President Xi strongly leads what will be a very successful operation. We are working closely with China to help!”
That same day in a press conference, Trump said he spoke to Xi, who said the country was handling it “really well.”
“I just spoke to President Xi last night, and, you know, we’re working on the – the problem, the virus. It’s a – it’s a very tough situation. But I think he’s going to handle it. I think he’s handled it really well. We’re helping wherever we can.”
Three days later, on February 10, Trump again praised China on Fox Business saying they had the outbreak under control.
“I think China is very, you know, professionally run in the sense that they have everything under control,” Trump said. “I really believe they are going to have it under control fairly soon. You know in April, supposedly, it dies with the hotter weather. And that’s a beautiful date to look forward to. But China I can tell you is working very hard.”
Called China ‘extremely capable’
On February 13, Trump was asked by Fox News’ Geraldo Rivera if he thought China was being truthful about coronavirus. The President called China “extremely capable” and professional in handling the outbreak.
“Well, you never know. I think they want to put the best face on it. So you know, I mean, if somebody – if you were running it, you’d probably – you wouldn’t want to run out to the world and go crazy and start saying whatever it is because you don’t want to create a panic,” he said. “But, no, I think they’ve handled it professionally and I think they’re extremely capable and I think President Xi is extremely capable and I hope that it’s going to be resolved.”
The next day, while speaking to National Border Patrol Council members, Trump said China was “working very hard on this.”
“It’s a tremendous problem,” he added. “But they’re very capable and they’ll – they’ll get to it.”
Speaking to the press on February 18, the President praised the Chinese government again.
“I think President Xi is working very hard,” Trump said. “As you know, I spoke with him recently. He’s working really hard. It’s a tough problem. I think he’s going to do – look, I’ve seen them build hospitals in a short period of time. I really believe he wants to get that done, and he wants to get it done fast. Yes, I think he’s doing it very professionally.”
Asked if he trusted the data from China, the President declined to answer the question, instead, again, praising the Chinese President.
“Look, I know this: President Xi loves the people of China, he loves his country, and he’s doing a very good job with a very, very tough situation,” he said.
Thought China didn’t need to do anything differently
Speaking to reporters on February 23 on the White House South Lawn, Trump was asked if Xi should be doing anything differently in his handling of the crisis.
“No, I think President Xi is working very, very hard. I spoke to him. He’s working very hard. I think he’s doing a very good job. It’s a big problem. But President Xi loves his country. He’s working very hard to solve the problem and he will solve the problem. OK?”
In news conferences on February 25 and 26,Trump again praised China for “working very hard” to fight coronavirus. On February 29, he praised measures put in place by China and said similar measures could be put in place in the US to prevent spread.
“We’ve been in very close contact with China, including myself with President Xi. He very much wanted this to happen,” said Trump. “He wanted this to get out and finished and be done. He worked – he’s been working very, very hard, I can tell you that. And they’re making a lot of progress in China.”