NEW DELHI: On Tuesday, U.S. President Donald Trump dropped a bombshell, cutting off $400 million in funding for the World Health Organisation (WHO), accusing it of mishandling the Coronavirus outbreak by overlooking China’s many missteps. But he hinted it may be only temporary.
“I am directing my administration to halt funding while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization’s role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the Coronavirus,” he told journalists during a White House press briefing, adding that the WHO had accepted China’s claims about the Coronavirus at “face value”. He described as “disastrous” its opposition to the U.S. imposing travel restrictions on people coming from China.
China, which contributes 10 per cent to the WHO (against 15 per cent by the U.S.), jumped to the agency’s defence, warning that the decision would undermine international cooperation at a time when it was most needed. China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Zhao Lijian said: “This U.S. decision will weaken the WHO’s capabilities and undermine international cooperation.” He underscored that “China will as always support the WHO in playing an important role in international public health and global anti-epidemic response” but did not indicate if his country would make up the deficit in the agency’s budget.
The Chinese support for the WHO comes at a time when the role of its director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has been under increasing criticism over the Coronavirus outbreak. Ghebreyesus, who was elected WHO chief with China’s backing, is widely perceived as doing Beijing’s bidding. He has been criticised for attempting to cover up the virulent outbreak in China and delaying its formal declaration as a pandemic.
Critics say Trump is trying to cover up his own mishandling of the Coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. He initially dismissed it and by the time he got his act together thousands had died with the death toll overtaking China’s. Others see echoes of Trump’s anti-UN posture: Recall in 2017 the U.S. withdrew from UNESCO after the agency admitted Palestine as a member. Then again, in 2018 he cut off funding for the UN Relief & Works Agency which oversees development in the Palestinian territories. It turned out he had nothing against the agency as such, his problem was the Palestinians whom he accused of not striking a peace deal with Israel!