The European Union backed the World Health Organization (WHO) and multilateral efforts to fight the coronavirus on Tuesday after U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to withdraw from the global agency.
"This is the time for solidarity, not the time for finger-pointing or for undermining multilateral cooperation," European foreign affairs spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson told reporters.
The EU sponsored a motion at Tuesday's session of the WHO's annual assembly to urge an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international response to the pandemic.
"The European Union backs the WHO in its efforts to contain and mitigate the COVID-19 outbreak and has already provided additional funding to support these efforts," Battu-Henriksson said.
Not for the first time, this puts Brussels in opposition to Washington, where Trump has accused the U.N. health agency of being too close to China and of being slow to react to the COVID-19 outbreak.
On Monday, the U.S. leader, who has already frozen U.S. funding for the WHO, wrote to its director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, to lay out the charges and threaten to pull out.
Trump also threatened to permanently halt funding for the WHO if it did not commit to improvements within 30 days.
"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," Trump told Ghebreyesus in the letter.
Trump suspended U.S. contributions to the WHO last month, accusing it of promoting Chinese "disinformation" about the novel coronavirus outbreak, although WHO officials denied the accusation and China said it was transparent and open.
"They're a puppet of China, they're China-centric to put it nicer," Trump said before tweeting the letter he had sent to the Ghebreyesus.
Beijing has furiously denied the U.S. allegations that it played down the threat and Chinese President Xi Jinping reiterated at the World Health Assembly that his nation had been "transparent" throughout the crisis. The country accused Trump of smearing China and shirking American responsibilities to the WHO.
"The U.S. leader's open letter you mentioned is full of hints, 'perhaps,' and 'maybes,' and tries to use specious methods to mislead the public, and achieve the goals of smearing China's anti-virus efforts, and shirk responsibility for the United States' own insufficient response," foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.
"The U.S. tries to use China as an issue to shirk responsibility and bargain over its international obligations to the WHO. This is a miscalculation and the U.S. has picked the wrong target," he said.
More than 317,000 people have died of COVID-19 out of nearly 4.8 million infections worldwide, and governments are scrambling to contain the virus while seeking ways to resuscitate their hammered economies.
Zhao added the U.S. was attempting to deflect from its own "insufficient prevention and control" against the virus.
With more fatalities and cases in the U.S. than any other country by far, under-pressure Trump has blamed the WHO for not doing enough to combat its initial spread.
"The only way forward for the World Health Organization is if it can actually demonstrate independence from China," Trump's letter read.
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