President Donald Trump said the US will terminate its relationship with the World Health Organization, which he has accused of being under Chinese control and failing to provide accurate information about the spread of coronavirus.
“We have detailed reforms that they must make and engage with them directly, but they have refused to act," Trump said Friday at the White House. “We will be today terminating our relationship with the WHO."
Trump’s announcement came as he delivered a litany of complaints against Beijing, ranging from trade practices to legislative moves that would compromise Hong Kong’s autonomy. He had previously suspended funding to the WHO, complaining that it had been complicit with China in concealing the extent of risks posed by the coronavirus pandemic, which originated in Hubei province.
Earlier this month, Trump threatened to withdraw from the WHO, sparking opprobrium from global leaders who have said the international group is more important than ever in the context of the pandemic.
In a four-page letter detailing his grievances with the organization, Trump called on the WHO to “demonstrate independence from China," renewing his complaint that led him in April to temporarily suspend US funding.
Trump made the letter public hours after President Xi Jinping addressed the World Health Assembly by video link. Xi promised to devote $2 billion toward fighting the pandemic over the next two years while urging greater international cooperation to defeat the virus.
Hong Kong trade status
Intensifying his confrontation with China by punishing the country for the coronavirus pandemic and its steps to curb Hong Kong’s autonomy, Trump said his government would revoke the territory’s special trade status under US law.
He also said he would order financial regulators to examine Chinese firms listed on US stock markets with an eye toward limiting American investment in the companies, and deny entry to Chinese nationals considered to be security threats.
“Our actions will be strong, our actions will be meaningful," the president said in a statement from the White House Rose Garden, after citing a litany of longstanding grievances against the country. He took no questions.
Trump’s announcement came after China’s legislature moved this week to impose a new national security law on Hong Kong that critics say will restrict freedoms in the city. He has also sought to blame China for the coronavirus pandemic that’s killed more than 100,000 Americans as domestic criticism of his handling of the outbreak has mounted.
“China’s pattern of misconduct is well known," Trump said, complaining about the history of the US trading relationship with the country.
He said Beijing “unlawfully claimed territory in the Pacific Ocean" and “broke its word with the world on ensuring the autonomy of Hong Kong."
“The Chinese government has continuously violated its promises to us," he said. “These plain facts cannot be overlooked or swept aside. The world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government," he added, a reference to the pandemic.
The retaliatory measures did not include withdrawal from the “phase one" trade deal Trump signed in January.
China’s legislature has approved a plan to draft legislation that Hong Kong democracy advocates say will curtail freedom of speech and undermine the city’s independent judiciary.
That prompted Secretary of State Michael Pompeo to announce earlier this week that the administration no longer considers the city sufficiently autonomous under a 1992 law that allows for easier travel and trade between the US and Hong Kong. The law also allows companies based in the Chinese territory access to American technologies deemed sensitive to national security that face export restrictions in mainland China.
Chinese officials earlier Friday called potential US actions over Hong Kong “purely nonsense," saying the matter was an internal affair and that essential freedoms in the city would remain intact.
Trump’s announcement follows weeks of growing anger toward Beijing within the White House. The president and his advisers have repeatedly blamed the Chinese government for the coronavirus outbreak that began in the country’s Hubei province but that has caused a far greater death toll in the U.S. than China has publicly reported.