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US President Donald Trump has announced he will withdraw funding from the World Health Organisation, end Hong Kong’s special trade status and suspend visas of Chinese graduate students suspected of conducting research on behalf of their government.
Mr Trump has expressed anger at the World Health Organisation (WHO) for weeks over what he has portrayed as an inadequate response to the initial outbreak of coronavirus in China’s Wuhan province late last year.
In a White House announcement on Friday sure to escalate tensions with China that have already surged during the pandemic, he claimed Chinese officials “ignored” their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressured the body to mislead the public about an outbreak that has now killed more than 100,000 Americans.
On the WHO, Mr Trump said: “We have detailed the reforms that it must make and engaged with them directly, but they have refused to act. Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating the relationship.”
The US. is the largest source of financial support for the WHO, and its exit is expected to significantly weaken the organisation.
Mr Trump said the US will be “redirecting” the money to “other worldwide and deserving urgent global public health needs”.
He noted America contributes about 450 million US dollars (£360 million) to the WHO, while China provides about 40 million (£32 million).
In April when the president first proposed withholding money from the WHO, Democrats said such a move would be illegal without approval from Congress and that they would challenge it. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Friday called the move “an act of extraordinary senselessness”.
Other critics of the administration’s decision to cut funding called it misguided, saying it would undermine an important institution that is leading vaccine development efforts and drug trials to address the Covid-19 outbreak.
The WHO declined to comment on the announcement.
At an event later on Friday, Mr Trump was asked about relations with China, and he repeated his earlier suspicions about how the country managed to apparently contain the virus in Wuhan while it spread to Europe and the United States.
“Well, we’re certainly not happy with what happened with respect to China,” he told reporters.
Tensions over Hong Kong have increased over the past year as China has cracked down on protesters and sought to exert more control over the former British territory.
Mr Trump said his administration will now begin eliminating the “full range” of agreements that had given Hong Kong a relationship with the US that mainland China lacks, including exemptions from controls on certain exports. He said the State Department will begin warning US citizens of the threat of surveillance and arrest when visiting the city.
“China has replaced its promised formula of one country, two systems, with one country, one system,” he said.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo notified Congress on Wednesday that Hong Kong is no longer deserving of the preferential trade and commercial status it has enjoyed from the US since it reverted to Chinese rule in 1997.
The president also said the US will be suspending entry of Chinese graduate students who are suspected of taking part in an extensive government campaign to acquire trade knowledge and academic research for the country’s military and industrial development.
Allowing their continued entry to the country would be “detrimental to the interests of the United States”, Mr Trump said in an order released after the White House announcement.
Revocation of the visas has faced opposition from US universities and scientific organisations that depend on tuition fees paid by Chinese students to offset other costs and fear possible reciprocal action from Beijing that could limit their access to China.
The president’s order includes an exemption for students whose work is not expected to benefit the Chinese military.
Meanwhile in China, the mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party claimed US moves to end some trading privileges for Hong Kong “grossly interfere” in China’s internal affairs and are “doomed to fail”.
Saturday’s editorial in the People’s Daily newspaper said it is the “firm determination of all Chinese people” to oppose interference in Hong Kong affairs by any external forces.
It said: “This hegemonic act of attempting to interfere in Hong Kong affairs and grossly interfere in China’s internal affairs will not frighten the Chinese people and is doomed to fail.”
Attempts at “forcing China to make concessions on core interests including sovereignty and security through blackmailing or coercion… can only be wishful thinking and day-dreaming.”