President Donald Trump said Friday the U.S. will terminate its relationship with the World Health Organization 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 Organization 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 organization.
“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.”
The U.S. is the largest source of financial support for the WHO and its exit is expected to significantly weaken the organization. Trump said the U.S. 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 U.S. contributes about $450 million to the world body while China provides about $40 million.
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 U.S. that mainland China lacked, including on trade and extradition. He said the State Department would begin warning U.S. citizens of the threat of surveillance and arrest when visiting the city.
The president also said the U.S. 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 U.S. universities.
Trade between the United States and Hong Kong is estimated at $38 billion a year. The territory also hosts some 1,300 U.S. companies, including nearly every major financial institution. The State Department also estimates that 85,000 U.S. citizens reside in Hong Kong.
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