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WORLD | 29-05-2020 18:12

Trump says United States is 'terminating' relationship with WHO

Trump accuses Geneva-based WHO of being a "puppet" of China, and said the funding freeze would become permanent unless it made "substantive improvements."

US President Donald Trump said Friday he was severing US ties with the World Health Organisation, which he says failed to do enough to combat the initial spread of the novel coronavirus.

Trump first suspended funding to the UN agency a month ago, accusing it of mismanaging its handling of the global pandemic. Then 10 days ago, he accused the Geneva-based WHO of being a "puppet" of China, and said the funding freeze would become permanent unless it made "substantive improvements." He said Friday that Beijing had "total control" over the organisation. 

“We have detailed the reforms that it must make and engaged with them directly, but they have refused to act," the president said from the White House. “Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating the relationship.”

The Republican leader said the US would be redirecting funds previously allocated to the WHO "to other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs."

"The world needs answers from China on the virus. We must have transparency," Trump said.

Denials

Beijing has furiously denied the US allegations that it played down the threat when the virus first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year. It says Washington is trying to shirk its responsibilities to the WHO and shift blame for its own uneven virus response.

The United States was the largest contributor to the WHO budget, providing at least US$400 million in funding last year.

Earlier this week, the UN health agency launched a new independently-run foundation for private donations, which the organisation hopes will give it greater control to direct philanthropic and public donations towards pressing problems such as the coronavirus crisis.

The vast majority of the WHO's budget is in voluntary contributions, which go straight from countries and other donors to their chosen destination.

The WHO therefore only has control over the spending of countries' "assessed contributions" from member states, which are calculated on their wealth and population.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said the creation of the new foundation was not related to Trump's threat.

"It has nothing to do with the recent funding issues," he said Wednesday, detailing that greater financial flexibility had been among his long-term reform plans since taking over the organisation in July 2017.

Hong Kong move

Trump also said the US will begin the process of withdrawing special trade benefits for Hong Kong because of the Chinese government's imposition of a new security law in the semi-autonomous city. The measure, combined with the cancellation of visas for some Chinese citizens, comes as a rift between the two countries widens.

Tensions over Hong Kong have been increasing for more than a year as China has cracked down on protesters and sought to exert more control over the former British territory.

Trump said the administration would begin eliminating the “full range” of agreements that had given Hong Kong a relationship with the US that mainland China lacked, including on trade and extradition. He said the US State Department would begin warning US citizens of the threat of surveillance and arrest when visiting the city.

The president also said the US would be suspending entry of certain Chinese citizens. He didn't provide specifics, but officials said this week that the administration was considering expelling thousands of Chinese graduate students enrolled at US universities.

Racial tension

The announcement came as US officials revealed a staggering drop in spending had been registered in April and amid rioting in Minneapolis.

US Commerce Department statistics showed a record-shattering 13.6 percent drop in spending in April, a day after a federal jobs report showed another two million-plus Americans went out of work last week. The depth of the spending drop is particularly damaging because consumer spending is the primary driver of the economy.

Trump fired the flames of racial controversy on Friday yet again as he threatened to take action to bring the city of Minneapolis “under control,” calling violent protesters outraged by the death of a black man in police custody “thugs” and reviving a civil-rights era phrase fraught with racist overtones.

"When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” Trump wrote in a tweet that was quickly flagged by Twitter as violating rules against “glorifying violence." The White House said the president “did not glorify violence. He clearly condemned it.”

Trump's comments came after protesters torched a Minneapolis police station on Thursday night, capping three days of searing demonstrations over the death of George Floyd, who was captured on video pleading for air as a white police officer knelt on his neck.

 

– TIMES/AFP/AP

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