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In a private conversation with President Donald Trump during the rapid acceleration of the coronavirus pandemic, China’s leader Xi Jinping went out of his way to deploy one of the most effective diplomatic maneuvers of the current American era: aggressive flattery.In a phone call to discuss the international health crisis last week, Xi stressed to Trump how decisive, strong, and successful he feels his U.S. counterpart’s public-health and economic responses have been, two U.S. officials with knowledge of the matter said. The flattery came at a time when Trump was continuing to experience a deluge of criticism for his administration’s response to the pandemic. It also came as some of the American president’s most prominent officials were still engaged in a multipronged campaign to castigate the Chinese government for an alleged coronavirus cover-up and to rebrand the illness as the “Chinese virus” and the “Wuhan virus.”Trump had begun incorporating that language into his public utterances, framing the pandemic as a war whose origins were in China. But lately, he has softened his tone and adopted a more deferential stance toward Xi-whom he routinely calls his good “friend” and an “incredible guy”- going out of his way to compliment and excuse Beijing for its response to the virus, and to even publicly shrug off new reporting on China’s disinformation apparatus in the midst of the pandemic.China’s Coronavirus Keeps Spreading but the WHO Still Won’t Declare a Global EmergencyIn the past few days, Trump has also told multiple officials that Xi has assured him that the Chinese government wouldn’t lie about the numbers of reported cases of coronavirus currently coming out of the epicenter of the outbreak, Wuhan, two sources familiar with the comments said.“For a long time, the president has enjoyed an epic bromance with Xi,” a senior administration official said. “If I were them, I would be doing the same thing. Why wouldn’t you try to leverage that relationship with a [U.S.] president who goes on TV so many times to say how great he thinks your guy [Xi] is.”The president’s messaging on Xi and China appears to have trickled down to other parts of the federal government as well. According to two senior Trump administration officials, the State Department has also toned down the tough talk on Beijing for not revealing its coronavirus case numbers sooner. In recent cables, it appears the department is also no longer calling the virus the “Wuhan virus” and is instead referring to it as “COVID19” or simply “COVID.” As one senior Trump official told The Daily Beast: “There’s an understanding that the department-and the administration as a whole-is going to back away from that terminology.”It is a fairly jarring turn. Just earlier this month, the State Department had transmitted a cable that included a section detailing National Security Council “Top Lines” and official talking points on the “[People’s Republic of China] Propaganda and Disinformation on the Wuhan Virus Pandemic.”The State Department did not return a request for comment. But the shift comes as White House senior adviser Jared Kushner, along with the State Department and FEMA, set up the deliveries of essential medical supplies and protective gear from U.S. health-care distributors based in China. The new tone is particularly notable since, for weeks, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had accused China’s leaders of contributing to the global spread of the virus because they took too long to warn the rest of the world of its spread and silenced health-care workers who tried to speak out about it. In his remarks to the press, Pompeo has continuously referred to the coronavirus as the “Wuhan virus” and brushed off suggestions that such a term was racist. Beijing’s leaders pushed back on the designation, claiming that the terms are xenophobic and inaccurate now that the virus has spread to dozens of countries across the world. Grim Scenes at Chinese Hospitals as Doctors Rush to Treat Deadly Coronavirus“We condemn the despicable practice of individual U.S. politicians eagerly stigmatizing China and Wuhan by association with the novel coronavirus, disrespecting science and WHO,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a recent briefing. “The international society has a fair judgment, and Pompeo’s attempts of slandering China’s efforts in combating the epidemic is doomed to fail.”According to cables reviewed by The Daily Beast, China launched a campaign to discredit the Trump administration's use of the term “Wuhan virus.”“Dr. Zhong Nanshan, a respiratory disease expert widely respected by the Chinese public for his work on both SARS and the coronavirus, has been quoted widely by state-media outlets questioning the origin of COVID-19,” the cable said. “At a March 18 press conference at Guangzhou’s First Affiliated Hospital, Zhong again said there was ‘no evidence’ indicating the virus originated in Wuhan, adding that it would be ‘irresponsible’ to make conclusions about the origin of COVID-19 without further information.”It all amounts to a concession to Beijing from Trumpworld, which for a year has made alleged submissiveness to China-particularly on trade policy-a major political talking point against the president’s likely 2020 Democratic presidential rival. “Joe Biden, incredibly, dismisses China as an economic competitor, so it’s little wonder that while Biden was in office he welcomed China’s rise and sat back and watched as the Chinese ate America’s lunch,” Trump campaign communications director Tim Murtaugh said last year. The president himself has routinely claimed that he’s so tough on China that Beijing desperately wants Biden to win in November, insisting that “China wants Sleepy Joe BADLY!”Senior Trump officials and Capitol Hill lawmakers, alarmed by the recent change of tone in the administration’s public-facing relationship with China, are still pushing for Pompeo and the president to continue to counter China’s disinformation campaign, according to one official working on China policy.And on that front, Foggy Bottom still appears to be complying. Two officials with knowledge of the cables told The Daily Beast that the State Department was asking foreign countries to track Chinese disinformation efforts. One State Department cable said the People’s Republic of China was pushing out stories that focused on “preventing a second wave of outbreaks from ‘imported cases.’” Read more at The Daily Beast.Get our top stories in your inbox every day. 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A top doctor explains why COVID-19 cases and deaths are relatively low in Hong Kong, despite its proximity to mainland China.
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Partisan divisions on COVID-19 exist in Canada but they're deeper - and more dangerous - in the U.S.
In response to a reporter's question on Monday, Ontario Premier Doug Ford passed on a chance to take a shot at the federal government over the carbon tax - and instead thanked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau for his pandemic measures and called Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland "an absolute champion."Physical distancing may be keeping people apart to keep the novel coronavirus at bay, but in Canada some partisan divisions seem to be eroding as politicians of all stripes work together to fight the pandemic.Those divisions haven't gone away entirely, of course. Polls suggest that Liberal voters are much more likely than Conservative voters to approve of how Trudeau has handled the pandemic.But the split isn't as stark as it has been on other issues in less challenging times. And the split is also significantly smaller here than it is between ideological opponents in the United States.On average, Trudeau and his government received 63 per cent public approval of their handling of the health emergency in three recent surveys by EKOS Research, the Angus Reid Institute (ARI) and the Innovative Research Group (IRG).Among people who voted Liberal in the last election, or would vote for the party today, Trudeau and his government stood at 88 per cent approval. That's not an unusual level of approval for a political leader among supporters of his or her own party.Much less typical is the amount of support the federal government is getting for its management of the novel coronavirus outbreak among its political opponents. That support averaged 69 per cent among New Democrats, 45 per cent among Conservatives and 33 per cent among Bloc Québécois voters.So support for the federal government's performance is an average of 43 percentage points higher among Liberals than it is among Conservatives. The difference is 19 points for New Democrat supporters and 55 points for Bloc supporters.That margin between Liberals and Conservatives seems rather wide - until you put it in context. ARI's final pre-election poll last October found Liberals were more likely than Conservatives to say they had a favourable opinion of Trudeau by an 81-point margin.By comparison, partisanship is a far more significant source of division in the United States.Big partisan divide in the U.S. but not the U.K.Trump's job approval rating on the pandemic averaged 46 per cent in two recent polls by Pew Research and YouGov. Among Republicans, he averaged 83.5 per cent approval. Among Democrats, it was just 17.5 per cent.That puts the partisan division between Republicans and Democrats in the United States at 66 percentage points - greater than any partisan split in Canada.The size of that split stands out not only in comparison with Canada, but with other countries as well. In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Boris Johnson's job rating on the pandemic averaged 68.5 per cent in two recent polls by Opinium and Number Cruncher/Bloomberg.Among his own Conservative supporters, Johnson averaged 88.5 per cent. Among people who said they would vote Labour, the main opposition party in the U.K., his approval averaged 47.5 per cent. The margin between Conservative and Labour voters was 41 points - similar in size to the partisan division in Canada.With all three countries imposing restrictions on their citizens in order to stem the spread of the novel coronavirus, these partisan divisions could affect how seriously people take these measures.The messaging coming from U.S. President Donald Trump on the outbreak has been inconsistent. He has tweeted that the country couldn't let "the cure be worse than the problem itself" and voiced the hope that life and commerce could return to normal by Easter. He reversed course over the weekend, leaving the physical distancing guidelines in place until the end of April.But the YouGov poll shows that Republicans had heard the earlier message loud and clear. They were nearly three times as likely as Democrats to say the threat posed by COVID-19 was being exaggerated and were half as likely to say they were "very worried."Just 16 per cent of Democrats said COVID-19 was as dangerous as, or less dangerous than, the seasonal flu. That number was 43 per cent among Republicans. (COVID-19 is more contagious and more deadly than the seasonal flu.)By double-digit margins, Americans who voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election were less likely than those who voted for Hillary Clinton to say they were washing their hands more frequently or avoiding crowded public places.Partisanship less of a risk to public health in CanadaWhile this kind of partisan division is present in Canada, it does not appear to pose the same potential health risk.ARI found that Conservatives made up a disproportionate number of those who think the COVID-19 threat is overblown - but polling over time shows that those holding that opinion are making up less and less of the population. Overall, ARI found that Conservatives were just as likely as Liberals to say they were washing their hands more frequently, while the vast majority of them said they believe the outbreak poses a serious threat.EKOS found Conservatives were more likely than Liberals to say the federal government's measures haven't gone far enough - and were just as likely to say they had gone too far (for both Liberal and Conservative supporters, the percentage of those polled saying pandemic measures had overreached was less than six per cent).The widest partisan division in Canada - between Liberal and Bloc voters - has even fewer health implications. ARI found no difference at all between how seriously Liberal and Bloc voters are taking the threat or how they're changing their behaviour - and EKOS found Bloc supporters to be even less likely than Liberals to argue that the measures have gone too far.For the most part (and particularly when compared to our neighbours to the south) it seems that Canadians are not letting politics get much in the way of efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. The fact that formerly implacable foes like Doug Ford and Justin Trudeau can put their differences aside is perhaps the clearest sign of all.
"This is as physically close as we’ve been in a couple of days ’cause we’ve just found each other revolting," said Bell in an Instagram Live with Katie Couric.
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"Hope your stay-at-home plans tonight include joining me for a beautiful and breezy episode of AmericanIdol" the singer wrote on Instagram