Covid-19: US cuts ties with World Health Organisation, says China has ‘total control’


US President Donald Trump says the US will terminate its relationship with the World Health Organisation over its handling of the coronavirus outbreak in China and 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 two measures, combined with the cancellation of visas for some Chinese citizens, come as a rift between the two countries widens.

Trump, who has complained for weeks about the World Health Organisation as the virus death toll surged in the United States, said the global health body failed to adequately respond to the outbreak because China has “total control” over the global 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.”

US President Donald Trump points to a questioner as he speaks about coronavirus.

AP

US President Donald Trump points to a questioner as he speaks about coronavirus.

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The US is the largest source of financial support for the WHO and its exit is expected to significantly weaken the organisation. Trump said the US would be “redirecting” the money to “other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs”, without providing specifics.

He said Chinese officials “ignored” their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressured it to mislead the world when the virus was first discovered.

He noted that the US contributes about US$450 million (NZ$725m) to the world body while China provides about US$40 million.

A riot policeman pushes a woman taking photos of detained protesters in Mongkok, Hong Kong. Tensions have been rising in Hong Kong as China cracks down on protestors.

Kin Cheung/AP

A riot policeman pushes a woman taking photos of detained protesters in Mongkok, Hong Kong. Tensions have been rising in Hong Kong as China cracks down on protestors.

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 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.