On the coronavirus, Trump changes his mind about China (again)

When it comes to the coronavirus, what's Donald Trump's posture toward China? It's a moving target.
Image: President Donald Trump greets China's President Xi Jinping during the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, 2019.
President Donald Trump greets China's President Xi Jinping during the G20 Summit in Osaka on June 29, 2019.Brendan Smialowski / AFP - Getty Images
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By Steve Benen

When it comes to the coronavirus, what's Donald Trump's posture toward China? It's a moving target.

As recently as late January and early February, the American president seemed more than happy to defend China and vouch for its efforts to combat the virus. Last week, Trump reversed course, vigorously touting far-right rhetoric about the "Chinese Virus," even going so far as to touch up his White House notes by hand, to make them more overtly hostile toward Beijing.

As recently as eight days ago, the Republican appeared in the White House press briefing room, where he insisted that journalists at independent American news outlets "are siding with China."

Earlier this week, Trump administration officials caused diplomatic trouble with our G-7 allies and at the U.N. Security Council by pushing an anti-China line during efforts related to the pandemic.

All of which helped set the stage for this presidential tweet, published just after 1 a.m. (E.T.) this morning:

"Just finished a very good conversation with President Xi of China. Discussed in great detail the CoronaVirus that is ravaging large parts of our Planet. China has been through much & has developed a strong understanding of the Virus. We are working closely together. Much respect!"

To be sure, this posture -- which I suppose is his third? -- is far more constructive than the line Trump was pushing last week. But his constant changes in direction are getting a little weird.

What's more, it's likely Chinese official have taken notice, and Trump's reversals won't do much to improve his stature -- or lack thereof -- in Beijing. After a series of incidents in which the American president was forced to back down after trying to get tough with Beijing, he became the subject of ridicule in Chinese media. One headline in April 2017 read, "Trump slaps self in face, again."

Three years later, that keeps happening.