President Donald Trump announced the United States is ending its relationship with the World Health Organization on Friday, accusing it of bowing to pressure from China and resisting reforms related to its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The world needs answers from China on the virus,” Trump said at the White House. “We must have transparency.”
Trump said the money the U.S. would typically send to the WHO will instead go to “other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs.” The announcement comes a little more than a month after Trump announced a freeze on U.S. funding to the United Nations agency.
Trump and many Republicans have accused the WHO of not being transparent in the early days of the coronavirus outbreak and being too sensitive to China’s wishes during the pandemic.
Yanzhong Huang, a senior fellow for global health at the Council on Foreign Relations, said Trump has overstated China’s influence on the global health agency and pulled off of the international stage at a critical time.
“This is not the time for WHO to be undermined,” Huang said in an interview. “It is a time for U.S. actually to work with other countries and nongovernmental organizations to reform the organization, to strengthen the organization.”
Trump’s made the announcement during a brief press conference at the White House unveiling a series of actions against China. The announcements, which came in rapid succession over roughly 10 minutes, included changes to the U.S. relationship with Hong Kong, a new proclamation restricting certain Chinese graduate students from coming to U.S. universities and a review of how Chinese companies listed on U.S. stock exchanges operate.
Trump tied the announcement on Hong Kong to China’s move to enact new national security legislation in the city, which has historically enjoyed greater freedom than mainland China under the “one country, two systems” arrangement. The legislation, which prohibits subversive activity and secession, is seen by the U.S. and experts as the end of that delicate arrangement.
Earlier this week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Congress that Hong Kong did not appear to enjoy autonomy from mainland China and no longer warranted the special treatment the United States has given the city under the United States-Hong Kong Policy Act of 1992.
On Friday, Trump said the United States will begin eliminating special policy carve-outs for Hong Kong, including an extradition treaty and export controls, and revoke preferential customs treatment.
In addition, Trump said the U.S. will sanction Hong Kong and Chinese officials the administration determines were involved in eroding the city’s autonomy.
“China has replaced its promised formula of one country, two systems with one country, one system,” Trump said.
Huang said the actions against Hong Kong are essentially punishing the city for actions Beijing took against its independence.
“The foremost rule would be do no harm, especially to Hong Kong,” he said in an interview. “Because you don’t want to do further harm to the autonomous status of Hong Kong by your own actions. Because I think that Beijing would be happy to see that.”
The series of announcements come at a time of heightened tensions between the United States and China that have been spurred on by the coronavirus pandemic, which Trump has pinned on China obfuscating key information about the virus early on in its spread.
Under a proclamation Trump issued Friday shortly after the press conference, the U.S. will deny visas for Chinese graduate students who studied at universities with connections to the Chinese military, with limited exceptions.
“This pandemic has underscored the crucial importance of building up America’s economic independence, re-shoring our critical supply chains and protecting America’s scientific and technological advances,” Trump said at the White House on Friday.
The announcements drew mixed reactions from Congress, with Republicans who have become more hawkish on China in the wake of the pandemic praising the moves and most Democrats condemning at least the decision to withdraw from the WHO.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., denounced Trump’s Rose Garden proclamations, calling the press conference “pathetic.”
“America is reeling from 100,000 deaths and rising,” Schumer said. “Forty million have filed for unemployment. Our communities are hurting from senseless murders and years of racism and injustice. But President Trump is only interested in scapegoating and divisiveness when he should be leading.”
Among those praising the efforts was Senator Tom Cotton, an Arkansas Republican who has been among the most vocal advocates for forceful action against China and introduced legislation similar to Trump’s proclamation on Chinese students.
“America’s soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines shouldn’t have to face Chinese weapons systems designed by individuals trained in the United States, incorporating technology stolen from the U.S. military,” Cotton said in a statement. “I look forward to working with the administration to implement further measures to combat the Chinese Communist Party’s aggression.”