Trump faces global criticism for halting WHO funds

The international community condemned US President Donald Trump’s decision to stop funding the World Health Organisation (WHO) in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, saying that the fight against the pandemic would be severely undermined.

Mr Trump’s withdrawal of funds might hamstring the international health agency, which has been acting as a global adviser and coordinator on the pandemic, health experts said. Some also raised concerns about the poorer countries that depend on the WHO for resources to fight the outbreak.

Saying that the outbreak was at a “critical moment”, China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian claimed the US’ withdrawal would harm the fight against the virus.

“It will affect countries around the world, including the United States, and especially countries with weak capabilities,” he said.

Mr Trump yesterday accused the health agency of being too pro-China and mismanaging the crisis, as deaths in the US crossed 27,000 and global cases went past the two million mark.

“The reality is the WHO failed to adequately obtain, check and share information in a timely and transparent fashion,” said Mr Trump at a press conference.

The United States is the largest contributor to the WHO, giving more than US$400 million (S$569 million) last year in both membership fees and donations. China, whose contribution to the health agency for the past two years was one-tenth that of the US, was non-committal when asked yesterday if it would now increase its funding.

World leaders condemned Mr Trump’s decision, calling it “selfish” and “deeply regrettable”.

“Such a blow to this organisation just when the international community is looking towards it… is a step worthy of condemnation and every reproach,” said Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said there would be a time to learn lessons from this crisis. “But… it is not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the WHO or any other humanitarian organisation in the fight against the virus,” he said.

Ms Laurie Garrett, a former senior fellow of the US Council on Foreign Relations, said Mr Trump’s decision would cost lives. “Meanwhile, WHO is the only lifeline most African, Latin American and Asia-Pacific nations have,” she said.

The US has been stepping up its blame game by denouncing Beijing for not being transparent about the scale of the epidemic, a charge that China vehemently denies.

The WHO, in turn, has come under fire for not calling China to account for initially downplaying the outbreak.

A report by the Associated Press yesterday showed that Chinese leaders had for six days delayed warning the public that the coronavirus was being spread through human transmission.

It said the National Health Commission’s head Ma Xiaowei had on Jan 14 passed along instructions from President Xi Jinping to provincial health officials.

“The epidemic situation is still severe and complex, the most severe challenge since Sars in 2003, and is likely to develop into a major public health event,” AP reported Mr Ma as saying in the memo.

It was not until Jan 20 that the country’s top epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan revealed that the virus was being passed through human contact. The health authorities had previously said there was no clear evidence of this.

Professor Steve Tsang, who heads the SOAS China Institute in London, said the revelation is unlikely to hurt the Communist Party’s control of the narrative within China.

But he doubts that a pandemic that started as a result of mismanagement within China and then killed thousands worldwide and devastated economies will be forgotten soon. “This may well push many governments to review their policy towards China,” he said.

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