Trump to WHO: Commit to Major Reforms or US Will Stop Funding Permanently, ‘Reconsider’ Membership

By Patrick Goodenough | May 18, 2020 | 11:39pm EDT
President Trump and WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, at a G20 summit in Germany in 2017. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
President Trump and WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom, along with French President Emmanuel Macron, at a G20 summit in Germany in 2017. (Photo by Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

( – President Trump on Monday gave the World Health Organization 30 days to “commit to major substantive improvements,” failing which it would lose U.S. funding permanently and may see the United States withdraw from the organization altogether.

The warning, in a letter to WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom, came on the day that WHO opened its annual World Health Assembly, dominated this year by the coronavirus outbreak that began in China before sweeping the globe.

The administration has accused Beijing of facilitating the virus’ spread through an attempted cover-up in the early stages, and says the WHO – which Trump on Monday called “a puppet of China” – failed to hold it accountable.

“It is clear the repeated missteps by you and your organization in responding to the pandemic have been extremely costly for the world,” Trump wrote to Tedros. “The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China.”

“My administration has already started discussions with you on how to reform the organization. But action is needed quickly. We do not have time to waste.”

Trump told Tedros the WHO has 30 days to “commit to major substantive improvements.”

Should it fail to do so, he said, “I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization permanent, and reconsider our membership in the organization.”

“I cannot allow American taxpayers dollars to continue to finance an organization that, in its present state, is so clearly not serving America’s interests.”

Trump last month ordered a pause in new contributions to WHO, pending a review of its handling of the pandemic.

Since the organization’s founding in 1948, the U.S. has been its top funder, by far, not just in annual assessed contributions paid by every member-state, but also in the significantly larger area of voluntary funding.

For the 2018-2019 biennium, the United States accounted for 15.8 percent of the total ($236.9 million in assessed and $656.1 million in voluntary contributions). The next biggest contributors over that period included Britain (7.7 percent), Germany (5.2 percent), and Japan (3.8 percent). China accounted for 1.5 percent.

‘Political gamesmanship’

In the letter to Tedros, Trump outlined U.S. concerns about China and WHO’s behavior, including:

--China’s failure to notify WHO within 24 hours of the risk of a health emergency, as required by the International Health Regulations. Trump said China only informed WHO on December 31 about cases in Wuhan of pneumonia of unknown origin, “even though it likely had knowledge of these cases days or weeks earlier.”

--Allegations that Tedros, under pressure from Beijing, had held off in January on declaring the outbreak a “public health emergency of international concern,” until a week later when “overwhelming evidence to the contrary forced you to reverse course.”  

--WHO’s failure to “press China for the timely admittance” of a WHO-led team of international experts. (The team finally arrived in Wuhan on February 22 – 25 days after President Xi Jinping agreed with Tedros to its entry “as soon as possible.”) Even when it went ahead, the epicenter of Wuhan was excluded from the original itinerary. Trump also noted that WHO – “remarkably” – remained silent when China prohibited the two Americans on the team to visit Wuhan at all.

--WHO’s public opposition to travel restrictions implemented by the U.S., even as Tedros praised China for restricting travel domestically. “Your political gamesmanship on this was deadly, as other governments, relying on your comments, delayed imposing life-saving restrictions on travel to and from China.”

“Throughout this crisis, the World Health Organization has been curiously insistent on praising China for its alleged ‘transparency,’” Trump wrote. “You have consistently joined in these tributes, notwithstanding that China has been anything but transparent.”

Trump said that, even now, “China continues to deny international access to their scientists and relevant facilities, all while casting blame widely and recklessly and censoring its own experts.”


Speaking to reporters at the White House earlier on Monday, Trump said the WHO had “done a very sad job in the last period of time.”

“And again, the United States pays them $450 million a year; China pays them $38 million a year, and they’re a puppet of China,” he said. “They’re China-centric, to put it nicer.  But they’re a puppet of China.”

“They gave us a lot of very bad advice – terrible advice,” he said. “They were wrong so much, always on the side of China.”

Asked whether he had made a final decision on funding, Trump said he had considered reducing the $450 million to $40 million, but “some people” considered even that to be too much.

“So we’re going to make a decision fairly soon,” he said. “But I think it’s very unfair when we’re paying 450 [million].  For many, many years we’ve been paying 300, 400, 450, almost 500 sometimes.  And we’re not treated right.”

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