Donald Trump has threatened to permanently withdraw funds from the World Health Organization (WHO), accusing the U.N. agency of favouring China during the coronavirus crisis.
The US president detailed his "serious concerns" in a letter to the organisation's director-general, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, and said he was prepared to drop funding on a permanent basis if no "substantive improvements" are seen in the next 30 days.
He listed a series of bullet points in his letter, saying it served as proof of the WHO's "alarming lack of independence" from China.
It added that the organisation - aside from allegedly favouring Beijing - had been slow to raise the alert over COVID-19, and had published "grossly inaccurate and misleading" information in regards to the disease.
Devi Sridhar, a professor of global health at the University of Edinburgh, said the letter was likely written for Trump's political base and meant to deflect blame for the virus' devastating impact in the United States, which has by far the most infections and virus deaths in the world.
“China and the US are fighting it out like divorced parents while (the) WHO is the child caught in the middle, trying not to pick sides,” she said.
“President Trump doesn’t understand what the WHO can and cannot do," she said, explaining that it sets international standards and is driven by its member countries. “If he thinks they need more power, then member states should agree and delegate it more.”
On Tuesday, a WHO spokeswoman said the letter had been read, but there would be no immediate reaction due to focus being spent on preparing the final day of the annual World Health Assembly.
She said she thought there could be "more clarity" later in the day.
Meanwhile, Dr Tedros confirmed earlier on Monday that an independent review on the WHO's handling of the crisis would begin "at the earliest appropriate moment," following requests from European, African and other nations wanting to learn lessons from the outbreak.
He has already stressed that the WHO declared COVID-19 a global health emergency at the end of January when less than a hundred cases were recorded outside China.
The WHO then announced the outbreak had reached a pandemic level by March 11, when several thousand people had died and epidemics were announced elsewhere.
This handling of the crisis, however, has been overshadowed in part as a back-and-forth political spat erupted between the US and China.
Donald Trump had previously praised China for its response to COVID-19 on numerous occasions, including on Twitter in January, when he said he "greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency".
In February, he said China had been making "tremendous progress" on bringing the number of infections down.
But this has since turned sour between the pair as America surpasses 90,000 nationwide deaths to the disease, and argues that China should be held accountable.
In response, China has accused the US of launching a smear campaign to try and avert taking responsibility for becoming the worst virus-hit nation in the world.
The WHO has been trying to reform for decades, and the coronavirus pandemic might give this effort more impetus, said Claire Wenham, a professor of global health policy at the London School of Economics.
But she added that Trump's letter showed misplaced criticism of the UN agency.
"I think it’s been a great political tool for him to try and deflect responsibility for his own failures within the US response to this. But I think it’s nothing more than a piece of political puppetry to try and deflect the blame," Wenham told Euronews in a live interview.
"He seems to think that the WHO should have been putting boots on the ground and trying to stop the outbreak in Wuhan, and that’s not what the WHO does. The WHO seems to actually have done as good as a job as it could have done at the early stage of this outbreak to work with China, to ensure the best diplomatic response, to try and get all the information it could," she explained.
"And you’ve got to remember that the WHO is in a difficult position; because if it came out too critical of China, that might have severed all potential links to get more data about this early on."