On WHO’s Birthday, Trump Warns 'China-Centric' UN Agency Funding Could Be Cut

By Patrick Goodenough | April 8, 2020 | 3:49am EDT
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on January 28, 2020. (Photo by Naohiko Hatta/AFP via Getty Images)
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom meets with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Beijing on January 28, 2020. (Photo by Naohiko Hatta/AFP via Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) – On the day the World Health Organization marked its 72nd birthday, President Trump on Tuesday scolded the U.N. agency for being “China-centric,” said WHO had “called it wrong” on the coronavirus outbreak, and indicated that its biggest funder may freeze its contributions.

The Geneva-based agency “receives vast amounts of money from the United States,” Trump said during a coronavirus taskforce briefing at the White House. It had “called it wrong” over the outbreak, criticizing his decision early on to restrict travel from China, he said.

“We’ll be looking into that very carefully, and we’re going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO,” Trump said. “We’re going to put a very powerful hold on it, and we’re going to see. It’s a great thing if it works, but when they call every shot wrong, it’s no good.”

Responding to questions later, Trump walked that back somewhat, indicating that defunding the WHO would be considered.

A reporter asked if during the pandemic was the right time to freeze funding to the WHO.

“No, maybe not,” he conceded. “I mean, I’m not saying I’m going to do it, but we’re going to look at it.”

“You did say–” a reporter interjected, but Trump disputed that, saying that he had said “we’re going to look at it, we’re going to investigate it, we’re going to look at it.”

“But we will look at ending funding, yeah. Because you know what? They called it wrong, and if you look back over the years even, they’re very much – everything seems to be very biased towards China.”

“They seem to be very China-centric,” he said earlier. “That’s a nice way of saying it, but they seem to be very China-centric. And they seem to err always on the side of China. And we fund it, you know, so I want to look into it.”

Trump returned several times to WHO’s opposition to travel restrictions.

From February 2, the U.S. began barring entry to non-U.S. nationals who had visited China in the previous 14 days. On March 11 Trump expanded that restriction to apply to 26 European countries – two days after Italy had overtaken South Korea as the country with the largest number of confirmed cases outside of China.

“When I closed it [arrivals from China] down they actually said that I made a mistake in closing it down,” Trump said. “And it turned out to be right.”

“If we didn’t close it down, we would have lost hundreds of thousands more lives.”

$893 million in 2018-2019

The WHO was established on April 7, 1948, a day marked each year as World Health Day.

Since 1948, the U.S. has been its top funder, 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.

Since the coronavirus emerged in Wuhan late last year, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has regularly praised China’s handling of the outbreak, including its “transparency,” despite widespread allegations of early sluggishness, attempted cover-ups, and claims of inaccurate data reporting.

Observers questioned WHO’s initial reluctance to declare a public health emergency of international concern. An emergency committee meeting on Jan. 23 was divided over the issue, and the decision was put off for another week. During that week, the number of confirmed cases in China climbed from 557 to 7,711, and the number of cases elsewhere rose from 12 in seven countries to 83 in 18 countries.

The WHO also held off on declaring the outbreak to be a global pandemic, finally doing so on March 11, by which time the reported COVID-19 death toll was 3,162 in China, and 1,130 elsewhere.

From early on, WHO advised against travel restrictions: “WHO advises against the application of any travel or trade restrictions on China based on the information currently available on this event,” it said in a January 10 statement which it continued to refer back to for weeks.

Two days after Trump’s China restrictions took effect, Tedros reaffirmed WHO’s opposition – at least 21 other countries by that stage had begun to enforce similar measures – saying, “Such restrictions can have the effect of increasing fear and stigma, with little public health benefit.”

On February 29, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci praised Trump’s decision a month earlier to restrict travel from China.

“If we had not done that, we would have had many, many more cases right here that we would have to be dealing with,” he said.

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