Trump's move to strip $400 million from WHO amid coronavirus is just the propaganda windfall Russia, China, and Iran have been hoping for

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Trump's move to strip $400 million from WHO amid coronavirus is just the propaganda windfall Russia, China, and Iran have been hoping for

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Trump Xi

Eugene Hoshiko/Getty Images; Reuters

US President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

  • President Donald Trump has given a propaganda boost to US adversaries like China, Russia, and Iran by moving to cut US funding from the World Health Organization. 
  • Trump announced plans to cut funding on Tuesday, accusing the WHO of being too China-centric and covering-up the scale of the coronavirus outbreak in its early days. 
  • All three countries have piled on the US in the wake of Trump's announcement, accusing it of undermining the global effort to defeat the virus.
  • Trump has made the US the bad guy at a time when many countries were turning against China. 
  • Public health experts, former US officials, US lawmakers, and even a top conservative think thank have all warned that cutting the WHO's funding could exacerbate the coronavirus pandemic.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

By moving to cut funding from the World Health Organization (WHO) amid a devastating pandemic, President Donald Trump has granted US adversaries such as Russia, China, and Iran a major propaganda boos.t

After Trump on Tuesday announced his plans to cut the roughly $400 million the US contributes to the WHO's budget, all three countries excoriated the move. 

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov on Wednesday said the US should "refrain from further attacks on the WHO." 

"We are calling on the US to refrain from further attacks on the WHO and pursue a responsible policy, which would not ruin the basis of international cooperation in the medical and biological field, but on the contrary would enhance this cooperation and create a basis for its further development," Ryabkov said, according to Russia's TASS news agency, per CBS News.

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Similarly, China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian told reporters on Wednesday that Trump's move will "weaken WHO's abilities and undermine global cooperation on combating the pandemic."

"It will affect all countries in the world, including the United States - especially those with vulnerable abilities," he said. "We urge the US to fulfill its responsibilities and obligations, and support WHO to lead the international combat against the pandemic."

Meanwhile, Iran's top diplomat, Javad Zarif, tweeted: "The world is learning what Iran has known & experienced all along: US regime's bullying, threatening & vainglorious blathering isn't just an addiction: it kills people. Like 'maximum pressure' against Iran, the shameful defunding WHO amid a pandemic will live in infamy."

Iran had already been using the US as a scapegoat, blaming the Trump administration's crippling economic sanctions for its disastrous coronavirus response. Trump just gave the Iranian government more material in that regard. 

All of these countries have been broadly criticized for suppressing information on the novel coronavirus within their borders. But Trump's plan to cut funding from the WHO has now opened the door for them to accuse the US of undermining the global effort to combat the pandemic.

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And China, Russia, and Iran are hardly alone in condemning the move.

Trump is playing into China's hands

António Guterres, the secretary-general of the UN, said now is "not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organization or any other humanitarian organization in the fight against the virus."

 

Responding to Trump's announcement, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, "This is another case, as I have said, of the President's ineffective response, that 'a weak person, a poor leader, takes no responsibility.  A weak person blames others.' This decision is dangerous, illegal and will be swiftly challenged."

Pelosi and other Democrats are accusing Trump of using the WHO as a scapegoat to deflect from his own failures in responding to the pandemic, and to distract from the fact the US is the epicenter of the global health crisis. 

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Democratic Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut, a top lawmaker on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, on Tuesday tweeted: "Pulling out of the WHO makes America less secure. It makes another pandemic more likely. It only serves Trump's political interests, as he desperately grasps for a scapegoat to deflect attention from his fatal mishandling of this crisis."

Even the Heritage Foundation, a conservative, Trump-supporting think tank, criticized the move and warned it plays into China's hands and benefits its messaging at a time many countries are turning against it. 

"The US has taken pains to counter Chinese disinformation and focus the world on the fact that Chinese actions and inactions facilitated the spread of COVID-19 and impeded the international response, leading to enormous loss of life and economic hardship," Heritage senior research fellow Brett Schaefer wrote. "Those efforts will be immediately overshadowed by an announcement that the US is cutting funding to the WHO even as other nations, both developed and developing, are expressing anger toward China for its role in the COVID-19 pandemic."

Schaefer warned that China would "immediately exploit the announcement to expand its misinformation campaign, cement its influence in the World Health Organization, and portray the US as uninterested in helping other countries deal with COVID-19."

Trump is not alone in his criticism of the WHO, but experts and former US officials warn he risks exacerbating the pandemic by freezing funding

Trump has essentially blamed the WHO for the scale of the global health crisis, accusing it of being too deferential to China (where the virus originated) and opening the door for the virus to spread across the world. 

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"Today I'm instructing my administration to halt funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to assess the World Health Organization's role in severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus. Everybody knows what's going on there," Trump said on Tuesday.

The president is not alone in his criticism of the WHO, as many Republican lawmakers feel the agency should've pushed China to be more transparent in the early days of virus. The WHO has also faced criticism for accepting and endorsing China's claim in mid-January that there was no human-to-human transmission, which is not true. 

But former US officials who worked on public health crises under both Republican and Democratic administrations told Insider that while the WHO is not perfect, cutting funding from it amid a pandemic is counterproductive and could exacerbate the crisis.

The WHO plays a crucial role in advising and assisting developing countries amid health crises, and cutting its funding right now weakens its ability to do so. The US contributes roughly 15% of the agency's budget, ranging from $400 to $500 million per year. 

"If we throw a punch at WHO, we're just going to end up connecting with our own jaw here, because it will make it harder to stop the outbreak globally and that is bad for our own interests," Jeremy Konyndyk, who oversaw the Obama administration's response to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa as director for foreign disaster assistance at USAID, told Insider on Tuesday.

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Jack Chow, a US ambassador for global HIV/AIDS during the George W. Bush administration who also previously served as a WHO assistant director-general, told Insider that withdrawing funding is a "profound mistake."

"Should COVID-19 accelerate in poverty zones, the pandemic could last for many more months even years longer, and could even become permanent among human populations. For Trump to cause a crisis within a crisis weakens the global response at a precarious time," Chow said. 

Both Chow and Konyndyk blamed the WHO's structure and its nuetral mission for its deferential disposition toward China at the start of the coronavirus crisis. 

Trump is condemning the WHO for behavior he also exhibited toward China

While Trump condemned the WHO for "praising China for its so-called transparency," he did the exact same thing in late January while simultaneously downplaying the threat of the virus. 

Trump on January 24, for example, tweeted: "China has been working very hard to contain the Coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency. It will all work out well. In particular, on behalf of the American People, I want to thank President Xi!"

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The WHO declared coronavirus a global health crisis on January 30, a day before Trump issued travel restrictions for China. This was a little over a week after the first reported case of coronavirus in the US, and roughly a month before the first confirmed fatality in the US from the virus.

Trump continued to downplay the threat over the course of February and into March. 

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