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Trump says WHO 'puppet of China', threatens to stop funding for good

US president calls WHO 'puppet of China', says he'll reconsider US membership if it doesn't agree to improve

President Donald Trump threatened to pull the US out of the World Health Organisation (WHO), accusing it of botching the global coronavirus response and of being a "puppet of China".

The US contributed more than US$400 million (S$566 million) to the WHO last year, or about 15 per cent of its budget.

Mr Trump said on Monday he would permanently halt funding for WHO and reconsider his country's membership if it did not commit to improvements within 30 days.

Mr Trump suspended US contributions to the WHO last month, accusing it of promoting Chinese "disinformation" about the coronavirus outbreak, although WHO officials denied the accusation and China said it was transparent and open.

"If the WHO does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the WHO permanent and reconsider our membership," Mr Trump told WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in a letter posted on Twitter.

Earlier, Mr Trump said the WHO had "done a very sad job" in its handling of the coronavirus, which emerged in China late last year, and he would make a decision on funding soon.

Mr Trump said in the letter the only way forward for the WHO was for it to demonstrate independence from China, adding that his administration had started discussing reform with Mr Tedros.

A WHO spokesman said yesterday the agency had no immediate comment on the letter , but expected to have "more clarity" and a reaction later in the day.

Mr Trump also made various accusations against China in the letter including that it tried to block evidence the virus could be transmitted between people, pressed the WHO not to declare it an emergency, refused to share data and samples and denied access to its scientists and facilities.

China hit back yesterday with its Foreign Ministry spokesman, Mr Zhao Lijian, saying the letter was slanderous.

"The US leadership's open letter is filled with phrases of suggestions, maybes, and potentialities, and is trying to mislead the public through this specious method, to achieve the goal of smearing and slandering China's efforts in epidemic prevention and to shift responsibility in its own incompetence in handling the epidemic," Mr Zhao told a regular briefing.

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On Monday, WHO said an independent review of the global coronavirus response would begin as soon as possible.

In a separate development, Mr Trump made the surprise announcement that he is taking hydroxychloroquine, an anti-malaria drug that his own government experts say is not suitable for fighting the coronavirus.

Mr Trump said he'd been taking the drug as a preventative measure for about a week and a half. "I take a pill every day," he said, adding that he combines it with zinc.

Asked why, he said: "Because I think it's good. I've heard a lot of good stories."

Some doctors say it does not work for coronavirus patients and US government regulators warn it has not been shown to be safe. - REUTERS, AFP

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