US President Donald Trump said on 30 April his trade deal with China was now of secondary importance to the coronavirus pandemic as he threatened Beijing with new tariffs amid allegations over the country’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

China's foreign ministry denounced threats of using tariffs as a weapon against it, after US President Donald Trump last week suggested looming new retaliatory measures over Beijing's alleged mishandling of the coronavirus crisis, reported Reuters citing a daily briefing before reporters.

Underscoring that tariffs in general hurt all parties involved, spokeswoman Hua Chunying reiterated that the United States should stop its blame game, used as a ploy for shifting responsibilities over COVID-19.

The spokeswoman once again emphasised that China emphatically dismisses all baseless accusations that it is responsible for deliberately spreading the virus.

Escalating Recriminations

Donald Trump escalated his rhetoric against Beijing recently, claiming he had seen evidence suggesting the coronavirus virus originated in a Chinese laboratory, as the fallout from the pandemic has dramatically impacted the economy.

When asked of possible retaliatory measures against Beijing for perceived shortfalls in its candidness in connection with the pandemic, the US President told reporters on 30 April he could enforce tariffs against China.

"I could do it differently, I could do the same thing but even for more money, just by putting on tariffs," said Trump.

The President questioned why China had allowed people to leave the country and travel globally when they were aware of the respiratory disease outbreak.

Trump also claimed he had observed things that give him confidence that the disease originated in the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

"We have people looking at it very, very strongly… Scientific people, intelligence people, others," said Trump, despite earlier assessments by the World Health Organization (WHO).

On 21 February WHO spokeswoman Fadela Chaib said:

“All available evidence suggests the virus has an animal origin and is not manipulated or constructed in a lab or somewhere else.”

Trump also earlier announced that US intelligence officials were probing reports that COVID-19 had spread globally after an accident at the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Beijing has been dismissing all “groundless accusations” against it in regard to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Emphasising that the US-China trade deal was now a secondary concern to Beijing's handling of COVID-19, Trump said:

“We signed a trade deal where they’re supposed to buy, and they’ve been buying a lot, actually. But that now becomes secondary to what took place with the virus. The virus situation is just not acceptable.”

Two anonymous US officials were cited by Reuters on 30 April as suggesting a range of options against China were under discussion, with specific recommendations not having reached Trump’s top national security team or the president yet.

“There is a discussion as to how hard to hit China and how to calibrate it properly,” one source was quoted as acknowledging.

Earlier, The Washington Post cited sources as claiming some officials had brought up the option of canceling some of the massive US debt held by China as a retaliatory measure over the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, Trump’s top economic adviser denied the report.

“The full faith and credit of U.S. debt obligations is sacrosanct. Period. Full stop,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow was quoted as saying by Reuters.

‘Deflecting Blame’

Chinese analysts have been cited as insisting the US President’s new tariffs threats are more of a distraction to deflect blame over his own criticism of handling the coronavirus epidemic and part of a reelection bid.

"Actually, at the current level of existing tariffs, Trump's hands are tied. He could not impose new tariffs without hurting the US more than hurting China or inflicting equal damage," Gao Lingyun, an expert at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing, was cited by Global Times as saying on Sunday.

US-China Trade War

While tariffs of up to 25 per cent remain on some $370 billion worth of Chinese imports, in a move to quell a damaging trade war, Donald Trump in January signed the first phase of a multibillion-dollar trade deal with China.

After a protracted tit-for-tat tariff war between the world's two largest economies that has impacted global growth, the agreement cut some US tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for Beijing’s pledges to purchase more American farm, energy and manufactured goods and address some US complaints regarding intellectual property practices.

The US-Chinese trade war broke out in July 2018 when President Donald Trump imposed tariffs on some Chinese imports in order to deal with the $500 billion US-China trade deficit.

Since then, the two sides have exchanged several rounds of import duties amid recurring efforts to resolve the conflict via dialogue.