Trump officials try to enlist foreign allies in the pressure campaign against China

US plans underway to punish China for Covid-19 pandemic

Now, there is an ongoing effort to enlist foreign allies to do the same.

In recent weeks, Trump, along with several administration officials including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, have spoken with dozens of foreign allies on ways to collectively address what the White House claims to be. China’s intentional effort to hide the severity of the outbreak, according to two people with knowledge of the discussions.

The president himself has stepped up his conversations with foreign counterparts in the past three weeks and raised China with dozens of foreign leaders, said one person familiar with those conversations. While many traditional U.S. allies continue to be wary of escalating tensions with China, speaking to Trump, some European leaders have expressed concern about how China has handled the crisis, according to the person.

Retaliation options being discussed within the White House include the imposition of additional tariffs on Chinese products, the stripping of China’s sovereign immunity and the crackdown on Chinese telecommunications companies, the people said. Officials pointed out that no imminent action is planned.

Among those pushing the president to take a harder line is Jared Kushner, Trump’s best adviser and son-in-law. According to three people familiar with his way of thinking, Kushner believes that one way to energize the President’s political base is to explode China for his inability to stem the spread of the disease early.

“The more you put this into China, the less you can say that we have been slow to mobilize,” said one person near the White House.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who is known to support closer economic ties to Beijing and is considered far less false than some of the President’s best Chinese advisers, has “started making his way” by taking a tougher stance on China, according to two people who are familiar with his views. These people warn, however, that Mnuchin remains reluctant to take any action that could harm the initial Phase 1 trade deal that the Trump administration agreed with China last year.

Sources who spoke to CNN added that there has been a concerted effort to isolate trade discussions from current political tensions so as not to harm the work done. Even in private, administration officials have been careful not to hit China for defaults on purchases of agricultural products, which observers say do not come close in any way to the agreed maximum levels of commitment, particularly as regards soy.

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China has taken some action regarding the commitments made on commercial agreements on intellectual property, but overall there was an uneven record in phase one, these people said, adding that none of the parties has even addressed the topic of commercial talks of phase two.

Trump is still wary of Xi

While Trump has intensified his rhetoric against China recently, he has been careful not to directly criticize Chinese President Xi Jinping, as he is wary of a personal relationship. In conversations with several Republicans of the Falcon Senate who encouraged Trump to turn his rhetoric about China into action, Trump has at times faltered, according to a Senate GOP source.

“He still has a soft spot for Xi,” said the source.

Another source near the White House said it another way: “He’s less afraid. Xi scares him.”

Just as at other times in his trade war with China, some Trump business friends warned him that taking action against China could harm the U.S. stock market, two sources close to the White House told CNN.

However, there are reasons why it might make political sense that Trump targets China. A Pew Research poll from last month showed that two thirds of Americans have an unfavorable outlook of China. This data was reinforced by the internal poll conducted by the Republican National Committee which showed similarly negative views on China among voters in several key battlefield states, according to a source known to the poll.

The White House and the Treasury Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The State Department declined to comment.

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On Sunday, Trump publicly admitted to believing that the epidemic, although covered by China, was the result of a “mistake”.

Trump contradicts the U.S. Intel community by claiming to have seen evidence that coronavirus originated in the Chinese laboratory

“My opinion is that they made a mistake. They tried to cover it up, they tried to put it out. It’s like a fire,” Trump said in an interview with Fox News. “You know, it’s really like trying to put out a fire. They couldn’t put out the fire.”

The president added that his administration was putting together a report on the epidemic that will be “very conclusive”.

Trump referred to the controversial relationship between the two nations last Thursday when he told reporters in the White House that China does not want to see him reelected because the United States is “getting billions” out of the country thanks to its trade deal, a comment that it cannot cope with the negative impact that the trade agreement has had on farmers and the wider American economy due to higher tariffs.

When asked if the source information about China about the coronavirus was related to undermining his reelection, Trump said that “China would like to see sleepy Joe Biden: they would take this country for a ride like you’ve never seen. before”.

Last week, in a very unusual move, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence released a statement stating that the United States is trying to determine if the coronavirus could have escaped from a laboratory in Wuhan city. The statement says intelligence agencies agree, with broad scientific consensus, that Covid-19 was not created by humans or genetically modified. He added that he will continue to evaluate emerging information and intelligence to determine if the epidemic started through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident in the Wuhan laboratory.

Pompeo offered a little more than a definitive evaluation on Sunday, telling ABC News that there is “huge evidence” that the coronavirus originated in a laboratory, agreeing with the evaluation of the intelligence community that does not appear to have been created by the man or genetically modified.

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Kylie Atwood of CNN contributed to this report.

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