Donald Trump points to Wuhan lab as Covid-19 source, threatens new tariffs as punishment



President Donald Trump on Thursday said the United States has intelligence that establishes a virology lab in Wuhan is the source of the pandemic and indicated new tariffs as his administration considers a range of punitive measures such as partly cancelling public debt and allowing victims to sue China.

“Yes I have,” Trump told reporters when asked if he has seen intelligence that traces the epidemic’s origin to the Wuhan lab with a high degree of confidence. He did not share any evidence and when asked how he felt confident it was the Wuhan lab, he demurred, saying, “I am not allowed to tell you that.”

Earlier Thursday, office of the Director of National Intelligence, which heads the US intelligence community, said in the statement that though it concurs with the wider scientific community that the coronavirus was “not manmade or genetically modified”, it was still examining “whether the outbreak began through contact with infected animals or if it was the result of an accident at a laboratory in Wuhan”.

The source of the epidemic remains disputed. China has denied it started at the Wuhan lab and has blamed a local seafood market instead.

The United Sates has been investigating the origin of the epidemic in China, and the Wuhan lab has clearly not been ruled out, and the true magnitude of the crisis in China, which is widely suspected of suppressing the real numbers.

Questions are being raised about China’s handling of the epidemic and calls for an impartial investigation into it have been growing worldwide, most recently by Australia.

The US intelligence community is conducting its own investigation as the office of the DNI stated Thursday. But it was not clear yet if the administration expected to revea more on the findings and how soon.

The president has turned up the rhetoric on China in recent days as his won administration’s handling of the crisis has come under increasing criticism for not responding aggressively. He recently indicated he was not averse to making China pay for losses incurred by the United States.

When asked on Thursday about reports that he could cancel US debt obligations to China, Trump said he could “do it differently” and act in “probably a little bit more of a forthright manner”.

“I could do the same thing but even for more money, just putting on tariffs,” he said.

The new tariffs, if he does impose them, will be in addition to the 25% duty still in force on $370 billion worth of imports from China left over from the trade war between the two countries that ended in January with the signing of a limited Phase One deal.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that punitive measures under discussion partly cancelling public debt owed to China, which is the second largest holder of US public debt with around $1 trillion, and stripping China of sovereign immunity and allow American victims of the epidemic to sure China for damages.

Officials from across US federal government were expected to meet Thursday to map the course of action but the president is reported to be tilting towards punishing China, away from a more moderate response being advocated by his economic advisers. But he appears to have not made up his mind yet.

Republican lawmakers have also been been calling for punishing China. Senator Josh Hawley has moved a legislation to hold China “accountable” by designing a mechanism to make China pay compensation to all nations impacted by the epidemic and not just the united States.

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