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By James T. Areddy and Liza Lin
SHANGHAI -- The U.S. government was preparing to evacuate by air hundreds of Americans from central China on Wednesday in response to the deadly coronavirus outbreak, as Beijing criticized Washington's overall response as unhelpful.
In the second such operation in a week following the December outbreak, two jetliners landed Tuesday in Wuhan to fly roughly 530 people to the U.S. in the evacuation, a person familiar with the planning said.
On the way into China, the two jetliners carried shipments of private aid -- moves that followed several days of criticism from Beijing about U.S. policy following the outbreak of the coronavirus, which has killed hundreds of people and infected more than 20,000, the most in and around Wuhan city.
Days after the first flight on Jan. 28 evacuated more than 200 diplomats, their family members and other U.S. citizens, the U.S. called on all Americans still in mainland China to leave the country. Major U.S. airlines, meanwhile, suspended flights -- moves that have been widely echoed around the world as concerns grow about the spread of the highly infectious coronavirus.
China's Foreign Ministry, meantime, has singled out the U.S. government for criticism on a near-daily basis, characterizing its moves as irresponsible and antagonistic.
"The U.S. government hasn't provided any substantial assistance to us, but it was the first to evacuate personnel from its consulate in Wuhan, the first to suggest partial withdrawal of its embassy staff, and the first to impose a travel ban on Chinese travelers," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters on Monday. "All it has done could only create and spread fear, which is a bad example."
Ms. Hua instead lavished praise on a number of countries that she said have sent aid to China: South Korea, Japan, the U.K., France, Turkey, Pakistan, Kazakhstan, Hungary, Iran, Belarus and Indonesia. She also praised the United Nations Children's Fund.
China's sharp criticism adds to complications in the U.S.-China relationship built up in recent years over technology and trade, among other issues. The dust is just now settling from a two-year trade dispute following a first-stage deal signed in January, though outstanding issues remain in that realm too.
On Jan. 31, the U.S. responded to a World Health Organization designation of China's viral outbreak as a "public-health emergency of international concern" by raising its travel alert for China to the highest level -- "Do Not Travel" -- as well as imposing new checks on arrivals from China, which was followed by the suspension of service to China by major U.S. air carriers.
Those moves were followed by similar travel alerts by other countries and the suspension of flight service to China by roughly 30 global carriers, though some of the first steps to limit entry of visitors from China were taken by North Korea and Singapore -- countries that have long enjoyed close relations with Beijing.
"The U.S. government is coordinating closely with the [People's Republic of China] government to deliver humanitarian assistance and to evacuate additional U.S. citizens from Wuhan," a spokesman for the U.S. Embassy said in response to Ms. Hua's criticism.
Aid to China from the U.S. is coming from private sources, with the help of American authorities. Donations of protective equipment from aviation giant Boeing Co. and two faith-based charities, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Utah and Samaritan's Purse in North Carolina, for instance, were being flown into Wuhan on this week's U.S. government-organized flights, according to a person familiar with the U.S. plan.
"We saw the comment from China's Foreign Ministry, and to be honest it did sting," said Ker Gibbs, the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai. "I understand it was directed at the government, but we couldn't help feeling a bit lumped into a category."
The business organization says more than 60 of its member companies have pledged or donated cash and equipment worth more than $38 million to local governments and charities in China since the start of the virus outbreak, including nine companies that donated at least $1.4 million each.
Honeywell International Inc. said in a statement it supplied 20 million masks and air and water purification systems, and is producing more safety products in answer to government calls. Coca-Cola Co. donated beverages and McDonald's Corp. sent meals to medical staff in more than 160 hospitals. Texas-based chemical maker Celanese Corp. responded to a request from the city of Nanjing by providing 3,000 masks and 100 protective suits.
On Jan. 29, Boeing and the Church of Jesus Christ, whose adherents are commonly known as Mormons, issued separate statements outlining their contributions to China, which includes 250,000 masks from Boeing and 220,000 from the church. Samaritan's Purse donated 78 pallets of medical supplies and personal protective equipment to Hubei.
Huang Ping, the Chinese consul general in New York, echoed the Foreign Ministry's critical comments on Tuesday, but also acknowledged the U.S. pledge to send experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to join the World Health Organization effort in China fighting the virus. He expressed appreciation to U.S.-based companies that have donated cash, supplies and expertise. "People from the U.S. and all over the world have offered massive support to ending and controlling this outbreak," he said.
Support from China's Foreign Ministry has been essential for getting the American evacuation planes into Wuhan, the center of the outbreak. Similar evacuations have flown out Europeans, Japanese and other foreign nationals.
The latest U.S. flights, which are expected to take off early Wednesday, come roughly a week after the first evacuation, which ferried 210 Americans to California, where they remain in quarantine. Further air evacuations from China are being planned for as early as Thursday, according to a U.S. Embassy statement.
Officials wouldn't say where this week's flights will land. However, four military bases in California, Colorado and Texas have prepared for the arrival of coronavirus evacuees.
Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio and Travis Air Force Base, about 50 miles northwest of San Francisco, said on social media that they have cleared space for the arrivals and are hosting base town-hall meetings to answer questions. Fort Carson, near Colorado Springs, is ready for potential evacuees but hasn't been informed of any specific arrivals yet, a spokesman said. The Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, near San Diego, is also prepared for evacuees, according to the Department of Defense.
As with the first evacuation, U.S. citizens will be expected to cover the cost of the operation. Prospective passengers have been told that the cost of the flight alone will be about $1,000, and that other costs may apply.
Some Americans were unable to depart on the first flight a week ago, including at least two families with small children who were tripped up by bureaucratic snafus.
Those people are now expected to be on the new flight, including Hermione Dickey, an eight-year-old American who has lived most of her life in China and missed the initial flight because she didn't have her passport with her, as reported earlier in The Wall Street Journal. Hermione's father, James Dickey, says he has since delivered the passport to American diplomats. Hermione will fly with her mother, Priscilla.
--Elizabeth Findell and Alejandro Lazo contributed to this article.
Write to James T. Areddy at email@example.com and Liza Lin at Liza.Lin@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
February 04, 2020 18:42 ET (23:42 GMT)
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