The delays continued as the WHO refused to declare the outbreak a pandemic until March 11, after 114 countries reported a total of 118,000 infections. This affected the preparedness of countries that count on the WHO’s guidance, wrote François Godement of the Paris-based think tank Institut Montaigne, as “a number of governments and organizations either believed naively those claims … or they chose to rely on this false comfort in order to delay difficult measures.”
Tedros’ loyalty to China dates back to his election to the post in 2017. Months before the election, he was invited to speak at Peking University about how the Global South and China should cooperate on health issues. China supported his nomination, and after he won the election, he announced the WHO would support the “One China” principle that denies Taiwan is a separate entity from China.
International organizations give China such deference because of money—but not the relatively small amount China gives to them. A growing number of countries around the world are dependent on Chinese investment. This allows China to quickly garner support from other countries and create voting coalitions within the UN, Godement said. China’s contributions are still small, but agencies hope China will provide more funding in the future.
For instance on April 1, the United Nations Human Rights Council’s Consultative Group appointed a Chinese official to the panel, which plays a key role in choosing human rights monitors for freedom of speech, health, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detentions.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of the non-governmental organization UN Watch, compared allowing China to choose monitors to “making a pyromaniac into the town fire chief.” China consistently bars free speech, “disappears” whistleblowers and critics, and arbitrarily detains dissidents.
“It’s absurd and immoral for the UN to allow China’s oppressive government a key role in selecting officials who shape international human rights standards and report on violations worldwide,” Neuer said in a statement.
In contrast, Taiwan has the freest society in Asia and one of the world’s best responses to the coronavirus outbreak. Despite its proximity to China, Taiwan only has 380 cases and five deaths. Although Taiwan, also known as the Republic of China, was one of the founding countries of the UN, member states kicked it out in 1971 when the world began to recognize the People’s Republic of China. Since then, Taiwan has not been able to participate in the UN or any of its agencies like the WHO.