China should prepare for more inflammatory comments from US President Donald Trump and his team as relations between the two countries come under increasing pressure due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the economic recession it created, according to observers. The assessment came after Trump expressed doubts over the phase one trade agreement signed between Washington and Beijing in January, saying the US would save US$500 billion if it “cut off the whole relationship” with China. In an interview with Fox Business News on Thursday, Trump even poured cold water on his personal ties to Chinese President Xi Jinping. “I have a very good relationship [with Xi], but I just, right now I don’t want to speak to him.” The two leaders last spoke on February 7. Despite Trump’s outburst, Beijing delivered a measured response on Friday, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian stressing the need for cooperation, not conflict. Maintaining a stable relationship was in the interests of both countries as they sought to contain the epidemic, treat the disease and save lives, and restore production, he said. But all of that required “the US to meet us in halfway”. Trump’s comments were in stark contrast to the positive discussions between the two countries’ top trade negotiators on May 8. In a three-way telephone conversation , Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin agreed to create “favourable conditions” for the phase one trade deal, which has been facing growing uncertainty as the global health economy has battered economies. Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said Trump’s remarks reflected the escalating tensions. “The conversation between trade officials on Monday indicated both sides’ intention to maintain the deal despite a deterioration in bilateral relations. But the global economic recession diminishes the effect of China’s massive increases in its imports of US goods,” he said. “Trump’s remarks reflect US resentment towards China and the poor state of the two nations’ relationship. Washington will keep on drilling China,” he said. Lu Xiang, a research fellow with the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that Trump’s threat to sever ties with China cast a new shadow over the already bleak outlook for Sino-US relations, and was evidence of his unpredictability. “We don’t need to overreact to every remark he makes, but we should bear in mind that words can lead to action and we need to prepare for all possible consequences,” Lu said. “The Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on economies has gone beyond anything that was previously anticipated,” he said. “China first needs to stabilise its domestic economy. The impact of external relations is not a top concern at the moment.” Who owns a virus? Covid-19 reignites debate on ‘viral sovereignty’ Trump’s comments drew ridicule from Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of Chinese state newspaper Global Times . “This president once suggested Covid-19 patients inject disinfectant,” he said on Twitter. “Remember this and you won’t be surprised when he said he could cut off the whole relationship with China.” Beijing and Washington have been locked in a war of words since the start of Covid-19 outbreak, with each accusing the other of mishandling and even causing the global health crisis. The economic fallout from the pandemic and massive death toll in America have fuelled the dispute, with Trump threatening to withdraw from the phase one agreement reached in January after 18 months of trade war and impose fresh tariffs on China. The rivalry is also being played out in the South China Sea , with an increase in US naval activity in the disputed waters, while Washington’s support for Taiwan as it seeks to join the World Health Organisation has been an ongoing source of annoyance for Beijing.