By Robert Schroeder, MarketWatch
President Donald Trump on Friday said the U.S. is quitting the World Health Organization and is beginning to revoke Hong Kong’s special status, in an escalation of tension with China.
Speaking in the White House Rose Garden, Trump also said the U.S. would move to sanction Chinese officials over what he called the “smothering” of Hong Kong, but the president steered clear of any discussion of reneging on a trade deal between the two countries, or wider sanctions.
U.S. stocks /zigman2/quotes/210599714/realtime SPX +1.60% /zigman2/quotes/210598065/realtime DJIA +1.34% /zigman2/quotes/210598365/realtime COMP +2.26% reversed early losses to post a mixed finish Friday after Trump announced the measures to be taken.
Trump also announced entry into the U.S. for some Chinese nationals would be suspended and said the U.S. would “study” the accounting practices of Chinese companies listed on U.S. exchanges.
Trump’s move came amid simmering tension between Beijing and Washington over China’s management of the coronavirus pandemic, as well as China’s tightening of controls on Hong Kong.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week declared Hong Kong to be no longer autonomous from China, after the country’s legislature approved a resolution imposing national-security laws.
Trump said he was beginning the process of revoking a policy granting Hong Kong special treatment by the U.S., including its preferential treatment as a customs and travel territory separate from China.
“My announcement today will affect the full range of agreements that we have with Hong Kong, from our extradition treaty, to our export controls and technologies,” said Trump.
Amid criticism of his administration’s own months-long denial of the risk posed by the coronavirus, Trump has accused China of covering up the initial outbreak , saying earlier this month on a Fox News program, “I think they made a horrible mistake and they didn’t want to admit it.”
Both Trump and Pompeo have claimed there is evidence the virus came from a lab in Wuhan, but neither has produced evidence. Pompeo has since backed away from the claim . The U.S.’s top infectious-diseases official, Dr. Anthony Fauci, has said that the likeliest source of the pathogen remains a Hubei Province wet market.
The president charged that the WHO failed to response to the coronavirus pandemic because China has “total control” over the organization.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, has called Trump’s April decision to pause U.S. funding to the WHO “illegal.”
Trump and presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, meanwhile, have attacked each other as being too soft on China . Biden has a lead over Trump in national polls ahead of the November election, and has an edge over Trump in several important swing states.