US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday accused China of trying to foment unrest in the United States through its criticism of racism.
Pompeo, known for his hawkish views on China, went on the attack on Beijing in an unusual address to state lawmakers in Wisconsin, a crucial swing state in November elections.
The Chinese Communist Party "thinks it can drown out American cries for accountability with shouts of racism," Pompeo told lawmakers from his Republican Party inside the state Capitol in Madison.
"It wants to foment the kind of strife we've seen in Minneapolis, and Portland and here in Kenosha," he said, referring to three cities that have seen protests over racism in recent months.
"That's disgusting. We can't let that happen," he said.
As evidence of China's intentions, Pompeo pointed to a letter from a Chinese diplomat to a lawmaker from Wisconsin.
The letter said that Beijing was "firmly opposed to racial discrimination and xenophobia" against the Chinese community over the coronavirus.
"America's righteous anger at the CCP over its handling of the coronavirus has nothing to do with race and everything to do with citizens dead, children kept from school and jobs lost," Pompeo said.
"The CCP knows this."
President Donald Trump has alarmed not only China but many Asian Americans by referring to the "China virus," a term that health experts call stigmatizing.
The United States frequently assails China's human rights record including over its incarceration, according to witnesses and activists, of more than one million Uighurs and other Turkic-speaking Muslims in the western region of Xinjiang.
China's official media eagerly returned criticism after the May killing of African American George Floyd by Minneapolis police, which has sparked global protest and renewed attention to racism.