China urged the United States on Wednesday to fulfil its obligations to the World Health Organization (WHO) after President Donald Trump halted funding for the body, while German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas warned against "blaming others" for the coronavirus crisis.
Trump’s decision to freeze WHO funding over its handling of the coronavirus pandemic has drawn condemnation from world leaders infectious disease experts as the global death toll mounts.
The US president, who has reacted angrily to criticism of his administration's response to the worst epidemic in a century, has become increasingly hostile towards the WHO.
The Geneva-based organisation had promoted China's "disinformation" about the virus that likely led to a wider outbreak than otherwise would have occurred, Trump told a White House news conference on Tuesday.
"The WHO failed in this basic duty and must be held accountable," he said.
President @realDonaldTrump is halting funding of the World Health Organization while a review is conducted to asses… https://t.co/tbxfP81TuT— The White House (@The White House)1586904611.0
Nearly 2 million people globally have been infected and more than 124,000 have died since the disease emerged in China late last year, according to a REUTERS tally.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was not the time to reduce resources for the WHO.
"Now is the time for unity and for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences," he said in a statement.
The United States is the biggest overall donor to the Geneva-based WHO, contributing more than $400 million in 2019, roughly 15% of its budget.
‘This decision weakens the WHO's capability’
Asked at a regular daily briefing whether China would step in to fill the shortfall, foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian was noncommittal.
"China will look into relevant issues according to the needs of the situation," he said.
Zhao said the pandemic, which has infected nearly 2 million people globally, was at a critical stage and that Washington's decision would affect all countries of the world.
"This decision weakens the WHO's capability and harms international cooperation in guarding against the epidemic. Every country in the world is affected, including the US and especially those with fragile capacities," he said.
"We urge the US to earnestly fulfil its duties and obligations," the spokesman added.
Strengthening the WHO is one of the best investments countries can make at this time, Germany's foreign minister said in response to Trump’s move.
"Apportioning blame doesn't help. The virus knows no borders," Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter.
"We have to work closely together against #COVID19. One of the best investments is to strengthen the @UN, especially the under-funded @WHO, for example for developing and distributing tests and vaccines," he said.
In Russia, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said the US announcement was "very alarming".
"This is an example of a very selfish approach by the U.S. authorities to what is happening in the world as regards the pandemic," Ryabkov was quoted by the TASS news agency as saying.
‘Not immune to criticism’
Trump’s WHO funding withdrawal has prompted criticism at home too.
US health advocacy group Protect Our Care said the move was "a transparent attempt ... to distract from his history downplaying the severity of the coronavirus crisis and his administration’s failure to prepare our nation."
"To be sure, the World Health Organization is not without fault but it is beyond irresponsible to cut its funding at the height of a global pandemic," said Leslie Dach, the group's chair.
But there was some support for the US president from Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who said he sympathised with Trump's criticisms of the WHO, especially its "unfathomable" support of re-opening China's "wet markets", where freshly slaughtered, and live, animals are sold.
The coronavirus is believed to have emerged from such a market in the city of Wuhan late last year.
"But that said, the WHO also as an organisation does a lot of important work including here in our region in the Pacific and we work closely with them," Morrison told an Australian radio station.
"We are not going to throw the baby out with the bathwater here, but they are also not immune from criticism," he added.
(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS)