China yesterday urged the United States to meet it halfway and strengthen cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus pandemic after President Donald Trump threatened to sever bilateral ties.
Relations between the world's two largest economies have deteriorated in recent weeks, with both sides trading barbs over the origins of the virus that has killed more than 300,000 people.
"To maintain the steady development of China-US relations is in the fundamental interests of the people in both countries, and is conducive to world peace and stability," said foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian at a press briefing.
"At present, China and the US should continue to strengthen cooperation against the epidemic, defeat the epidemic as soon as possible, treat patients, and restore economy and production. But it requires the US to meet halfway with China."
The comments came after Trump further hardened his rhetoric towards China, threatening to cut ties with the rival superpower completely as relations have steadily deteriorated over the pandemic.
"There are many things we could do ... We could cut off the whole relationship," Trump said Thursday in an interview with Fox Business News.
"You'd save $500 billion if you cut off the whole relationship."
Trump said that his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping is "very good" but added: "right now I just don't want to speak to him".
The threat came a week after a trade call between US and Chinese trade negotiators in which both sides stressed their commitment to the Phase One trade deal reached in January.
However, fulfilment of the deal looks increasingly tenuous in the face of the pandemic and a looming global economic downturn.
In the pact signed in January, China agreed to buy $200 billion more in US goods over two years than it did in 2017 -- before the trade war erupted and triggered tariffs on billions of dollars of two-way trade.
An ousted US health official warned Congress on Thursday that President Donald Trump's administration has no "master plan" to fight the coronavirus pandemic and is unprepared to distribute enough vaccines to immunize millions of Americans.
Rick Bright told a House panel that without clear planning and an improved coordinated response, "2020 could be the darkest winter" in decades for Americans.
Bright was removed last month from his post as head of the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority (BARDA), the agency charged with developing a vaccine against coronavirus.
In his first congressional appearance since his demotion, he presented a grim picture to lawmakers.
"We don't have a single point of leadership right now for this response, and we don't have a master plan for this response," Bright said.
He also warned that the 12- to 18-month timeframe being discussed for developing a viable vaccine might be too aggressive.
"I think it's going to take longer than that to do so," he said.
"We need to have a strategy and plan in place now to make sure that we can not only build that vaccine, make it, distribute it, but administer it in a fair and equitable plan," Bright said.
"We don't have that yet and it is a significant concern."
Several government and private experts have stressed that the pandemic, which to date has infected some 1.4 million Americans and caused more than 84,000 fatalities nationwide, may only fully be brought under control through a vaccine.
Bright issued a formal complaint last week about what he called the government's insufficient early action to fight the pandemic.
The career civil servant has said he was removed from his post due to political pressure, after he expressed opposition to the Trump administration's promotion of unproven drug therapies to fight Covid-19.
Trump on Thursday dismissed Bright as an unhappy employee who did not deserve to work for the administration.
EUROPE OPENS UP
More parts of Europe opened up yesterday as the world tried to get back on the road to recovery from coronavirus, despite fears of a second wave of the pandemic.
Borders were reopening and lockdowns continued to ease from Australia to Austria as governments move to rebuild the shattered economies of a planet that is learning to live under the shadow of the disease.
But the battle is far from won, with the virus continuing to ravage the United States and Russia and a report warning that a quarter of a billion Africans were at risk of being infected.
The catastrophic economic toll of the Covid-19 outbreak meanwhile became clearer than ever with the news that the virus had pushed Germany, Europe's powerhouse, into recession.
Slovenia became the first European country to open its borders yesterday after declaring an end to its coronavirus epidemic, despite new infections still being reported.
Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia were set to create their own "Baltic bubble", allowing free movement among the three countries, while Austria and Germany were expected to open their shared border.
Austria has been a pioneer in ending lockdowns and took an important symbolic step yesterday with the reopening of its restaurants and iconic Viennese cafes.
On the other side of the world, Sydney's bars and restaurants opened their doors to customers yesterday as a weeks-long lockdown eased.
However France called for self-restraint as the country prepared for its first weekend since its lockdown was eased on Monday, warning that police would break up any large gatherings.
France also announced the first death of a child from an inflammatory condition believed to be linked to coronavirus, as similar child fatalities are being investigated in New York and London.
In badly-hit Italy, some beaches are reopening but the absence of tourists is still keenly felt, for example in the canal city of Venice, where even the pigeons have deserted the famed St Mark's Square.
"Without tourists, Venice is a dead city," said 66-year-old gondolier Mauro Sambo.
Meanwhile the Asian Development Bank yesterday doubled its previous estimate of the cost of the pandemic, saying the world economy would shrink by $8.8 trillion -- almost a tenth of global output.