Trump says U.S. to withdraw from World Health Organization and announces new broadsides against Beijing
Donald Trump on Friday said he is terminating the U.S. relationship with the World Health Organization, making good on his threat to withdraw from the U.N. health agency he’s blamed for mishandling the coronavirus pandemic.
Trump also says U.S. will no longer treat Hong Kong as separate from China in move that could have major economic implications.
On Friday in an extraordinary broadside at the Chinese government, Trump accused China of a comprehensive “pattern of misconduct” and ordering U.S. officials to begin the process of revoking Hong Kong’s special status under U.S. law.
Trump outlined no deadline for the historic action. But if carried out, it would mean that the U.S. would no longer treat Hong Kong and China as separate entities for the purposes of extradition, customs, trade and visa issues, he said. And the announcement could include sanctions on Hong Kong or Chinese officials.
In Rose Garden remarks, Trump alleged that the Chinese government covered up the coronavirus outbreak and instigated “a global pandemic that has cost more than 100,000 American lives and over 1 million lives worldwide.” The president also attacked the World Health Organization as effectively controlled by Beijing.
“We will today be terminating our relationship” with the WHO, the president said, adding that the organization’s more than $400 million annual U.S. contribution would be diverted to other health groups.
Trump last month temporarily froze U.S funding to the WHO, contending the organization botched the international response to the pandemic and has been overly deferential to China. The U.S has previously contributed over $400 million per year to WHO’s $4.8 billion annual budget, more than any other country.
Trump sent a letter earlier this month to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, threatening to make the funding free permanent if the organization did not make “substantive changes” in the next 30 days. The letter did not detail requested reforms.
WHO has been organizing worldwide vaccine and drug trials against the novel virus.
The move was instantly criticized by public health experts, who said it made little sense to cut off the group’s funding amid a pandemic that’s still raging.
“We helped create WHO,” Tom Frieden, who led the CDC under the Obama administration, wrote on Twitter. “We are part of it. It is part of the world. Turning our back on WHO makes us and the world less safe.”
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The president later issued a proclamation to protect sensitive American university research from Chinese spying and to bar an unspecified number of Chinese nationals from entering the U.S. for graduate study. He also directed an administration working group headed by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to evaluate Chinese corporations listed on U.S. financial markets as potential targets of future restrictions.
The moves seemed certain to intensify growing U.S.-China tensions, though investors on Friday took them in stride.
The president’s comments were as notable for what he did not say. There was no mention of his irritation with China’s failure to quickly increase purchases of American goods as required by the trade deal he signed in January. He also made no direct reference to Chinese President Xi Jinping, even as he said “the world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government.”
In one sign of Trump’s increased fury with the world’s second-largest economy, on Friday morning he tweeted simply: “CHINA!”
His formal Friday announcement — while long on harsh rhetoric — was short on details. The president reiterated some familiar grievances, blaming the Chinese for stealing American trade secrets and jobs and assailing his predecessors for allegedly letting them get away with it.