U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he may put on hold his country's funding to the World Health Organization, criticizing the U.N. body for being "China-centric" and "wrong" in its response to the new coronavirus.
"The World Health Organization receives vast amounts of money from the United States...and they actually criticized and disagreed with my travel ban (imposed against foreign travelers from China) for the time I did it. And they were wrong," Trump said at a press conference.
"And we're going to put a hold on money spent to the WHO. We're going to put a very powerful hold on it and we're going to see," Trump said.
But when pressed by reporters on the prospect of freezing funding during a pandemic, he appeared to soften his threat, saying he intends to "investigate" whether to end the funding. "I'm not saying I'm going to do it, but we are going to look at it," he said.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry on Wednesday defended the WHO, adding that the organization, under the leadership of Director General Tedros Ghebreyesus, has been highly praised by the international community for its COVID-19 response and that a U.S. suspension of dues will negatively impact international cooperation to address the current pandemic.
"We hope that all countries would work together in the same boat and help each other contribute to the global fight against the virus," ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said during a regular press briefing in Beijing.
Trump, who has been under fire domestically for initially downplaying the seriousness of the coronavirus, is stepping up criticism of China and the WHO for what he sees as their failure to promptly respond to the global health crisis.
Trump has insisted that he responded quickly to keep the virus at bay, citing the administration's announcement on Jan. 31 that it would suspend the entry of foreign nationals from mainland China, which was the first to be hit by the pneumonia-causing virus late last year.
The president said on Twitter earlier in the day that he "fortunately" rejected the WHO's advice to keep borders open to China early on and doubled down on his criticism at the press conference, saying the international health organization seems to be "always on the side of China."
"If you look back over the years...everything seems to be very biased toward China. That's not right," he said.