U.S. President Donald Trump told the World Health Organization’s leader that he plans to make his temporary funding freeze to the WHO permanent unless “substantive improvements” are made, widening the political fallout from the coronavirus pandemic.
In a letter to WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus Monday, Trump also said he’ll reconsider the United States’ membership within the organization unless those improvements — which are strongly suggested to include loosening its ties with China — are made within 30 days.
“I cannot allow American taxpayer dollars to continue to finance an organization that, in its present state, is so clearly not serving America’s interests,” the letter says.
Trump posted the letter in full to his Twitter account Monday evening, writing the letter “is self-explanatory!”
The letter lists several allegations that the WHO ignored warnings from China during the first days of the virus’ detection in Wuhan, and later overly relied on Chinese statements that led to “grossly inaccurate or misleading” information about its spread.
It also accuses the WHO of being “curiously insistent on praising China for its ‘transparency'” and failing to call on Beijing to allow for an independent investigation into the origins of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.,
Trump, who has repeatedly pointed to his ban on travel from China to the U.S. as proof that he responded early and decisively to the pandemic, criticizes Tedros of “political gamesmanship” for voicing opposition to such travel bans, citing Chinese influence.
The letter mentions the WHO’s call for people to avoid travel in and out of China during the 2003 SARS epidemic — issued by then-director-general Gro Harlem Brundtland — and its criticism of China during that outbreak as evidence that the WHO “could have done so much better” had it “followed Dr. Brundtland’s example.”
The letter says the “only way forward” for the WHO “is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China.” Beyond that, Trump does not specify what “substantive improvements” must be taken for the WHO funding to be unfrozen.
“My Administration has already started discussions with you on how to reform the organization,” the letter reads. “But action is needed quickly. We do not have time to waste.”
Trump sent the letter after telling reporters in Washington Monday that he was considering a serious cut to U.S. funding if it were to be restored, but that he still had concerns about China’s influence on the WHO.
“They gave us a lot of bad advice, terrible advice,” he said about the organization. “They were wrong so much, always on the side of China.”
Trump announced in April that he was temporarily freezing U.S. funding to the WHO pending a review of its response to the pandemic. The accusations listed in the letter are presented as his administration’s findings from that review.
The United States has historically been the biggest donor to the WHO, contributing over US$400 million in 2019 — roughly 15 per cent of the organization’s budget for the fiscal year.
On Friday, Fox News reported that Trump was on the brink of signing a different letter to Tedros that would have announced a partial restoration of that funding, citing a draft of the letter. Host Tucker Carlson then brought on medical correspondent Mark Siegel, who begged Trump not to restore any funding “before there is a huge overhaul of the World Health Organization.”
After Fox Business host Lou Dobbs also criticized the news while retweeting the story, Trump replied Saturday that the partial funding, which he said would be 10 per cent of what the U.S. normally pays, “is just one of numerous concepts being considered.”
On Monday, Tedros bowed to calls from most of its member states to launch an independent evaluation of how it managed the international response to the coronavirus.
The “comprehensive evaluation,” sought by a coalition of African, European and other countries, is intended to review “lessons learned” from WHO’s co-ordination of the global response to COVID-19, but would stop short of looking into contentious issues such as the origins of the new coronavirus.
“This contagion exposes the fault lines, inequalities, injustices and contradictions of our modern world,” Tedros said at a WHO meeting Monday. “And geopolitical divisions have been thrown into sharp relief.”
Trump spent weeks at the beginning of the year also applauding China’s handling of the coronavirus crisis, at a time when the number of cases in the U.S. was small. He also praised Chinese President Xi Jinping and his leadership.
—With files from the Associated PressView link »