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Donald Trump blames China for US Covid-19 deaths in new escalation of rhetoric

President Donald Trump on Friday escalated attacks on China holding it responsible for Covid-19 deaths in the United States and worldwide as he also announced he was “terminating” US membership of the World Health Organization (WHO) for its failure to carry out reforms, chiefly cutting dependence on China.

The president also announced the United States will now not allow certain students and researchers from China linked to its military technology programmes from enrolling in US universities saying they were involved in theft of patented technology. He also ended special status for Hong Kong.

“The world is now suffering as a result of the malfeasance of the Chinese government,” Trump said in a short speech at a White House event that was supposed to have been a news briefing. But he did not take questions and left abruptly after reading out a short statement.

“China’s cover-up of the Wuhan virus allowed the disease to spread all over the world instigating a global pandemic that has cost more than 100,000 American lives and over a million lives worldwide,” the president said, using nomenclature for the epidemic adopted by his administration to reinforce its efforts to blame it on China.

Covid-19 epidemic started in Wuhan, capital of China’s Hubei province, last December.

President Trump has been attacking China in what has been widely seen by his critics as a move to deflect blame for the US epidemic, with nearly 103,000 fatalities now and 1.7 million infections, away from his administration’s confused and conflicted response influenced by his reluctance to acknowledge the gravity of the crisis so as to minimize its impact on his re-election prospects.

The World Health Organization is his other target. “Because they have failed to make the requested and greatly needed reforms, we will be today terminating our relationship with the World Health Organization and will be redirecting those funds to other organizations worldwide and deserving urgent public health needs,” Trump said at the news briefing.

Trump had sent WHO a list of reforms — chiefly, ending its dependence on China — that the United States wanted it to carry out with the threat of permanently freezing its annual contribution of $450 million and terminating its membership.

“The only way forward for the organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China,” he had written in a four-page letter to WHO director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus last week. He had given the world body 30 days to respond.

The United States has exited a number of world bodies and multilateral pacts on President Trump’s watch, starting with the Trans-Pacific Partnership in January 2017, the month he took office. This was followed by departures from the Paris Accord on climate change (2017), UNESCO (2017), Iran deal (2018) and UNHCR (2018). The president has also grumbled about US contributions to NATO and the United Nations.

And now WHO. The United States was the leading force behind the founding of the world body in 1948 and was its largest funder.

Its exit in the middle of a pandemic has been questioned by even his own party allies. “I disagree with the president’s decision,” said US Senate health committee chairman Lamar Alexander, a Republican, in a statement.

“Withdrawing US membership could, among other things, interfere with clinical trials that are essential to the development of vaccines, which citizens of the United States as well as others in the world need. And withdrawing could make it harder to work with other countries to stop viruses before they get to the United States,” he added.

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