President Trump announced during his daily COVID-19 press briefing on 14 April that the U.S. will be halting all payments to the WHO’s budget amid fierce international criticism of the organisation for its failings to deal with coronavirus.
“With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, we have deep concerns whether America’s generosity has been put to the best use possible,” he said. This is in stark contrast to the EU’s decision to provide an additional €2.8 million to WHO Afghanistan to aid the country’s fight against COVID-19. The U.S. contributes far more than any other country, with the total amounting to $400 million per year as part of the WHO’s $4.8 billion annual budget.
Trump’s move was not very diplomatic, but we have to consider whether or not his criticism is justified
True, this move is not very diplomatic: as well as halting funding in the middle of a deadly global pandemic, he also accused the WHO of “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus”. The question we should ask, though, is this: are Trump’s criticisms of the WHO justified? For the most part, the answer is yes.
Accusations of the WHO having a pro-CCP (Chinese Communist Party) bias are not unwarranted. Far from it, in fact. While his political opponents fret over the apparent ‘racism’ displayed by calling it a ‘Chinese virus’ or the ‘Wuhan virus’, Trump maintains that the Chinese government exerts a strong influence over the WHO. He has also accused the organisation of being too trusting of and too benign in attitude towards the dictatorship.
WHO appears to place too much trust in the Chinese authorities
In nowhere is this claim better vindicated than the WHO’s Twitter account. The WHO claims that it alerted the world to the danger of the virus on 5 January, and yet a tweet from 14 January reads “Preliminary investigations conducted by the Chinese authorities have found no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) identified in #Wuhan, #China”. It is hard to understand why they would feel comfortable tweeting this, especially considering that the virus emerged in December, or perhaps even as far back as mid-November. Moreover, the tweet appears to confirm that the WHO places too much trust in the Chinese authorities. The South China Morning Post has stated that the Chinese government knew that the disease was spreading before the tweet was sent.
A Chinese whistle-blower warning about the outbreak was told by the police to “stop making false comments”
It is worth remembering that the whistle-blower doctor, Li Wenliang (who has sadly died), sent out a warning to fellow medics on 30 December about the outbreak and was told by the police to “stop making false comments” four days later, according to the BBC. He was forced to sign a letter that said that he had “severely disturbed the social order”. Seven others were investigated for “spreading rumours”. There is a cruel irony in this, especially given that the Chinese government has been pushing the conspiracy theory that the US military created the virus. The theory goes that they brought it to China via a cyclist, who took place in the World Military Games in Wuhan in October 2019.
WHO’s submissive stance towards Beijing is also seen in its refusal to recognise Taiwan as a sovereign state
The WHO has further demonstrated its submissive stance towards Beijing by refusing to recognise Taiwan as a sovereign nation state or praise its response to the virus. It has received international praise for its exceptional handling of the pandemic, and as of the time of writing it only has 425 confirmed cases (out of a population of almost 24 million), 217 recoveries, and 6 deaths, despite carrying out 51,603 tests as of 17 April. When reporter Yvonne Tong interviewed WHO assistant director-general Bruce Aylward and asked whether the WHO would admit it as a member state – having been rejected every year since 2016 – he appeared to ignore the question, then claimed that he didn’t hear it, then suggested that Tong move on, and then terminated the call after she repeated the question. When he came back, she asked him to “comment a bit on how Taiwan has done so far”. His response? “We’ve already talked about China”.
While Trump’s approach isn’t perfect, his criticism is justified
One can take issue with Trump’s decision to suspend WHO funding instead of simply criticising their response – especially when as late as 24 January he himself was praising China for their ‘transparency’ – but it is impossible to deny that his criticism is justified. The WHO has shown itself to be wholly untrustworthy and immensely biased.
The west’s relationship with China is not the only thing that can be expected to change after this crisis is over. The WHO can expect to find that its relationship with several countries will be severely damaged, perhaps irreparably.
Last modified: 27th April 2020