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President Donald Trump for the first time on his Twitter feed used the phrase “Chinese Virus,” stepping up friction between the world’s two biggest economies as each tries to deflect blame for a deadly pandemic.

Trump, who has previously called the disease a “foreign virus,” tweeted on Tuesday: “The United States will be powerfully supporting those industries, like Airlines and others, that are particularly affected by the Chinese Virus.” Trump has previously retweeted a supporter who called it a “China virus.”

With the coronavirus spreading from China into the U.S. and around the world, both nations are trading tit-for-tat claims about its origins. The tense back-and-forth over what to call the virus is the latest chapter in a broader clash between the world’s two largest economies that ranges from trade and military competition to network equipment made by Huawei Technologies Co.

Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang said at a press briefing on Tuesday that Trump’s tweet smears Beijing, state broadcaster CCTV reported. “We are very angry and strongly oppose it,” he said, “The U.S should redress its mistake and stop baseless attacks against China.”

Hours before the Trump’s tweet, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo told top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi the Trump administration strongly objects to China’s “efforts to shift blame” for the coronavirus to the U.S., according to a State Department readout.

'Outlandish rumors'

Pompeo “stressed that this is not the time to spread disinformation and outlandish rumors, but rather a time for all nations to come together to fight this common threat”, according to the readout.

Last week, another Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian pushed a conspiracy theory the U.S. army may have had a role in spreading the virus.

In the phone conversation, Yang told Pompeo that “any scheme to smear China will be doomed to fail, and any move to harm the interests of China will be countered resolutely,” the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

As new infectious cases continued to surge in countries outside China, Beijing intensified its propaganda efforts to avoid taking the blame of causing the pandemic, while promoting a narrative that China’s unique “institutional advantage” under President Xi Jinping allows the country to adopt harsh containment measures to clamp down the spread.

Trump, who is facing an election this year, has sought to blame China for the virus as the outbreak slams global stock markets and threatens to push the world into recession.

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