Trump attacks China over virus as U.S. health secretary heads to Taiwan

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday intensified his attacks on China for its handling of the novel coronavirus outbreak that has killed over 700,000 people worldwide, as his health secretary headed to Taiwan for a visit sure to irk Beijing.

Trump, whose public approval ratings have fallen amid continued COVID-19 infection rates and economic woes, sought to shift the focus to Beijing, claiming again, without evidence, that it may have intentionally let the virus spread globally.

The Republican president, who is trailing Democrat Joe Biden in national polls ahead of the Nov. 3 election, said it was a “disgrace” that Beijing had limited the spread of the virus at home but allowed it to reach the rest of the world.

“What China did is a terrible thing … whether it was incompetence or on purpose,” he said, reviving a refrain that has strained ties between the world’s two largest economies and raised questions about a U.S.-China trade deal signed in January.

Biden on Wednesday said the deal was “failing” after Commerce Department data showed the U.S.-China trade deficit widened 5% to $28.4 billion in June.

Trump will sign an executive order Thursday aimed at yanking back supply chains from China for key ingredients and supplies used to make medicines and medical equipment, said Peter Navarro, a key adviser and China hawk.

Trump’s health secretary, Alex Azar, is due to visit Taiwan, which Beijing considers a renegade province, starting Sunday and reaffirm the U.S. partnership with the Asian country, prompting China to threaten “strong countermeasures.”

Azar will be the highest-level U.S. official to visit the island in four decades. Washington broke off official ties with Taipei in 1979 in favor of Beijing but is now moving to sell Taiwan at least four of its large sophisticated aerial drones.

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