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CNN  — 

In a pair of interviews on Tuesday, President Donald Trump railed against his competitor for being weak on China – but stopped short himself of condemning China’s repression of its Uyghur ethnic minority or its crackdown on political freedoms in Hong Kong.

“China will own the United States if this election is lost by Donald Trump,” Trump, referring to himself in the third person, told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt. “If I don’t win the election, China will own the United States. You’re going to have to learn to speak Chinese, you want to know the truth.”

His remark was the latest escalation in a contest with former Vice President Joe Biden over who can sound toughest on China, a battle that has become a central facet of the presidential campaign.

Trump blames China for failing to contain the spread of coronavirus and concealing information about the disease in its early stages. He says his once-chummy relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping has soured. And his administration has taken a series of actions that have heightened tensions with Beijing, including this week with the highest-profile visit by an American official to Taiwan in decades.

Yet even as the administration ratchets up pressure, Trump himself has declined on multiple occasions to condemn some of China’s most provocative moves.

Pressed in the same interview Tuesday on a claim his former national security adviser made recently – that Trump told Xi to proceed with detaining Uyghurs in camps in western China – Trump chose not to condemn the repression.

Instead, he offered a cursory denial of John Bolton’s claim while trashing his former aide.

“Who would ever say a thing like that? He made it up. He made up everything,” Trump said. “John Bolton is a sick person. And John, and he’s not a smart person.”

In his book, Bolton wrote Trump discussed the detention camps built by the Chinese government for Uyghurs in western China during a dinner at the G20 last year.

“With only interpreters present, Xi had explained to Trump why he was basically building concentration camps in Xinjiang. According to our interpreter, Trump said that Xi should go ahead with building the camps, which Trump thought was exactly the right thing to do,” Bolton writes.

The US State Department es