Trump strikes conciliatory tone with China's Xi on coronavirus call

The leaders of the world's two biggest economies made a bid to dial down tensions over the pandemic in a late night call.
Image: Chinese President Xi Jinping waves to the press as he walks with President Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Lago estate in West Palm Beach, Florida, April 7, 2017.
Chinese President Xi Jinping waves to the press as he walks with President Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida in April 2017.Jim Watson / AFP - Getty Images file

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By Adela Suliman, Leou Chen and Eric Baculinao

President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping had a "very good conversation" by telephone Thursday evening, according to Trump, in an attempt to deal with the fast-moving coronavirus pandemic — with cases in the U.S. now surpassing China and the rest of the world.

The call comes amid rising tensions between the two powers with finger-pointing between Washington and Beijing over the outbreak and how each country has handled it. Trump told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Thursday night that he had delayed making the call to Xi by an hour-and-a-half to call into the "No. 1 rated show in television" first.

The Trump administration has repeatedly called attention to the Chinese origin of the virus, while China has praised its own efforts to contain the disease and buy the rest of the world time.

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Following the call, Trump struck a conciliatory tone.

"China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus," Trump tweeted.

Trump has previously termed the disease the "Chinese virus" while members of his administration, including Secretary of State Pompeo, have referred to it as the "Wuhan virus," angering Chinese officials.

Trump this week seemed to back off from the term and asked about the change in language Thursday said that the virus did come from China, but "I don't have to say it, if they feel so strongly about it."

NBC News reported Wednesday that the Trump administration was pushing the U.N. Security Council to recognize the Chinese origins of the coronavirus in a joint declaration, something that enraged Chinese diplomats and triggered a stalemate within the global body.

According to China's state-run Xinhua News Agency, during the call Xi emphasized that the disease was a common enemy to mankind and disregarded national borders and races, calling for the international community to work together to beat the virus.

China had been transparent and timely in its response to the new coronavirus epidemic, he said, sharing scientific information including the release of virus gene sequences.

China moved to implement stricter travel restrictions this weekend halting international flights and suspending entry for many foreign nationals, according to the country's foreign ministry.

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Xi also noted in the call that Sino-U.S. relations were at an important juncture, according to Xinhua, and that China would work with the U.S. to share scientific research, medical supplies and stabilize global markets.

The call comes after a rocky year in relations between the world's two biggest economies, which reached a trade deal earlier this year after months of wrangling.

Earlier this month, China moved to expel about a dozen American journalists from the country in a tit-for-tat retaliation for Washington forcing Chinese state media firms to register as “foreign missions” in the U.S. and slash staff by 40 percent.

The number of coronavirus infections worldwide reached a half-million on Thursday and deaths climbed past 23,000, according to NBC News' count. Global leaders are coming together to stem its impact and prepare a new initiative in the coming days, said French President Macron, who also spoke to Trump on Thursday.

Phil Helsel contributed.