WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump, who has been accused of racism in labeling the coronavirus pandemic the "Chinese virus," said on Monday that Asian-Americans were not responsible for spreading the disease and needed to be protected.
Earlier on Monday, the New York Times cited advocacy groups and researchers as saying there had been a surge of verbal and physical assaults on Asian-Americans reported in newspapers and to tip lines as the virus has taken hold in the United States.
Trump last week ratcheted up his rhetoric against China over the coronavirus, saying Beijing should have acted faster to warn the world after the disease outbreak there. He also dismissed criticism that his labeling it the "Chinese virus" was racist.
He brushed aside a reporter's question on Wednesday as to whether it was potentially harmful to Asian-Americans to give the disease that name, as well for an unnamed White House official to have privately termed it the "kung flu."
On Monday, Trump tweeted: "It is very important that we totally protect our Asian American community in the United States, and all around the world.
"They are amazing people, and the spreading of the Virus.... is NOT their fault in any way, shape, or form. They are working closely with us to get rid of it. WE WILL PREVAIL TOGETHER!"
Trump repeated his remarks at a news conference with his coronavirus task force. Asked what prompted them, he replied:
"It seems that there could be a little bit of nasty language toward the Asian-Americans in our country and I don't like that at all ... so I just wanted to make that point, because they're blaming China, and they are making statements to great American citizens that happened to be of Asian heritage, and I'm not gonna let that happen."
Trump has repeatedly criticized China and its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, but he has been careful to avoid criticisms of its president, Xi Jinping.
On Friday, Trump said he greatly respected China and Xi, but added it was unfortunate the coronavirus began in China and got out of control. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Beijing's delay in sharing information about the virus had created risks for people worldwide.
At the same time, Trump and his administration have angrily rejected attempts by some Chinese officials to blame the virus on the U.S. military.
The dispute is just the latest irritant in relations between the world two largest economies already strained by issues ranging from trade to press freedom.
Speaking to AXIOS and HBO over the weekend, China's ambassador to Washington appeared to distance himself from a foreign ministry spokesman who blamed the U.S. military for the virus, saying its origin was for scientists to determine, not diplomats.
Cui Tiankai said the United States and China needed to work together to combat the virus and he hoped people would follow World Health Organization rules and avoid creating a stigma by linking the virus to a particular location.
(Reporting by David Brunnstrom; Additional reportng by Matt Spetalnick; Editing by Tom Brown and Cynthia Osterman)