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A politicized WHO

The current coronavirus pandemic has revealed China’s growing influence over the World Health Organization

A politicized WHO

Bruce Aylward speaks at a press conference about China's response to the new COVID-19 coronavirus. (Sam McNeil/AP)

In a viral video clip, Hong Kong journalist Yvonne Tong asked World Health Organization Assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward if the organization would allow Taiwan to become a member. On a video call, Aylward pauses uncomfortably before responding “I’m sorry, I couldn’t hear your question, Yvonne. … Let’s move to another one then.” When Tong repeats her question, he responds by hanging up the call. 

After Tong called him back and asked about Taiwan again, Aylward deflected, claiming they had already talked about China. 

On Twitter, some joked he was pulling a trick used by students trying to avoid answering questions on Zoom classes by pretending their screen is frozen. Badiucao, a Chinese political cartoonist living in Australia, drew a picture of Aylward in front of the WHO logo with 100 RMB bills stuffed in his ears and the quote, “I’m sorry. I couldn’t hear your question.”

Since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, the WHO (an agency of the United Nations) has parroted China’s narrative, delayed declaring the outbreak a public health emergency, and praised China’s response. In a clip shared by Chinese media, Aylward said, “If I had COVID-19, I’d want to be treated in China.” China has also successfully blocked democratic Taiwan and its 23 million citizens from being part of the WHO, with the group’s leaders avoiding mention of the T-word like the plague.

Has China bought the WHO, as Badiucao’s comic suggests? China’s monetary contribution to the WHO has increased by 52 percent from 2014 to $86 million in 2019, but that is still less than 10 percent of what the United States contributed the same year. Instead the communist country’s growing influence around the world has given China enormous sway over the United Nations.

A timeline of WHO’s actions on COVID-19 demonstrate this influence. China first alerted the WHO to an outbreak on Dec. 31 but claimed it “had not found any obvious human-to-human transmission.” Meanwhile officials reprimanded eight Chinese doctors for sharing information about this unknown pneumonia on social media. That same day, Taiwan’s Centers for Disease Control alerted WHO about its suspicion the new virus could be spread between humans and asked the organization to investigate.

Instead, two weeks later the WHO endorsed an initial investigation by Chinese authorities that again stated there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. It wasn’t until Jan. 23—three days after Chinese epidemiologist Zhong Nanshan backtracked the earlier report—that the WHO followed suit. By then, more than three weeks had passed and the virus had spread throughout Wuhan, China, and the rest of the world. Still, the WHO refused to call the outbreak a public health emergency of international concern until a week later. 

On Jan. 28, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus met with Chinese President Xi Jinping and praised China for “setting a new standard for outbreak control” and praised the government for its “openness to sharing information.” This was as Chinese censors wiped reports about the outbreak from the internet and the government under-reported the number of infection cases and deaths. Rather than offend the Chinese government, Tedros instead urged countries not to close their borders to travelers from China, even as the number of cases ballooned to 17,000 in early February. “China has bought the world time,” Tedros stated on Feb. 20. 

NAOHIKO HATTA/AFP via Getty Images

World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom, left, attends a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing on January 28. (NAOHIKO HATTA/AFP via Getty Images)

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.

Chiang Ying-ying/AP

Taiwanese army soldiers spray disinfectant over a road during a drill to prevent spread of the new coronavirus. (Chiang Ying-ying/AP)

From 2009 to 2016, when the more Beijing-friendly President Ma Ying-jeou was in power, China allowed Taiwan to join the World Health Assembly, WHO’s decision-making body, as an observer. But once President Tsai Ing-wen was elected, China again barred Taiwan. 

This is harmful to citizens of Taiwan as its government is excluded from emergency meetings, global expert briefings, and information collected from other countries’ health departments. Also because the WHO categorizes Taiwan as a province of China, several countries restricted travel from Taiwan even though it had few cases of the coronavirus. 

The row between Taiwan and the WHO continued this week. At a press briefing on Wednesday, Tedros accused Taiwan’s government of conducting an attack campaign against him, claiming he’s received death threats and racist attacks originating from Taiwan. Tsai has protested the accusation, responding in a statement that “for years, Taiwan has been excluded from international organizations, and we know better than anyone else what it feels like to be discriminated against and isolated.”

She invited Tedros to visit Taiwan and see their efforts to fight COVID-19—granted he “could withstand the pressure from China.”


Not free at last:

Vincent Yu/AP

A protester holds a picture of imprisoned and prominent Chinese human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang. (Vincent Yu/AP)

After four and a half years in prison, prominent human rights lawyer Wang Quanzhang was supposed to walk free this week. But instead of reuniting with his wife and young son, Chinese officials sent him 250 miles away to his hometown of Jinan, Shandong, for a mandatory coronavirus quarantine. His wife, Li Wenzu, fears the government is using the virus as an excuse to continue detaining him.

Comments

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  •  West Coast Gramma's picture
    West Coast Gramma
    Posted: Sat, 04/11/2020 05:32 pm

    Re: Who

    And yet our very own president shadowed China by wasting precious weeks on end in denial that Covid-19 would present a problem here in the United States. Could it be the same political motivation that places one's own political survival above the well-being of the nation? Even now, doctors, nurses, and hospitals, not to mention a navy admiral, get punished for telling the truth about their own local situation. I think it's time to open our eyes. Authoritarianism by any other name is still authoritarianism.

  • Hawkdriver
    Posted: Sat, 04/11/2020 08:50 pm

    WHO is this?  I don't agree with any of our presidents all of the time either but please respect the God given authority.  God put Mr. Trump in charge of our country, just like He put Mr. Obama in charge.  Pray for our leaders.

    The Chinese Communist Government is not our friend, the WHO looks like they are not to be trusted either but we as the U.S.A. need to stick together and pray.

  • not silent
    Posted: Mon, 04/13/2020 08:39 am

    Respectfully, I fear that if we, as American citizens are no longer allowed to criticize our leaders, we have ceased to be the nation we were founded to be.  Abraham Lincoln described our government as "of the people, by the people, and for the people."  Thomas Jefferson said, "Government exists for the interests of the governed, not for the governors."  If citizens are not allowed to speak up about the government, this is no longer a democracy.

    Moreover, if we, as the church, are not allowed to speak up when we feel something is wrong, we are no longer acting as the church.  When King David committed adultery with Bathsheba and covered the crime by having her husband killed, the prophet Nathan confronted him about it.  (He did it carefully and respectfully, but he did it.)  In my opinion, it is not a sign of respect for our leaders to turn a blind eye to anything they do. That seems more like fear or dysfunction to me. Surely we, as believers and as Americans, can find a way to hold our leaders accountable without disrespecting them or the office they hold.

  • Laura W
    Posted: Mon, 04/13/2020 09:33 am

    I agree. Disagreement does not automatically equate to disrespect.

  • Cyborg3's picture
    Cyborg3
    Posted: Sun, 04/19/2020 10:33 pm

    You always parrot the Democrats talking points West Coast Gramma. It is so easy to be a Monday morning quarterback but Trump has faithfully fought this pandemic closing the borders early on with China and transparently telling us the facts which is exactly opposite of what you would expect from an autocratic ruler. Nobody is being punished for speaking up but this is the news of the liberal MSM whose sole purpose is to destroy Trump using propaganda.

    The Captain revealed his ships readiness through insecure channels which led to the Chinese moving their aircraft carrier close to Taiwan and bragging that their aircraft carrier was not debilitated like ours was. This threatened the United States because we are obligated to protect Taiwan through the Taiwan Relations Act and had China thought our military was debilitated enough, it could well have led to China taking over Taiwan like they regularly threaten to do. The Captain was replaced wisely by the Navy, but he may well be restored to his former position.

    I agree with Hawkdriver that their is a continual war against Trump by the liberal media which is clearly ungodly.  The real goal of all this is to take down a President who is fighting for our values, where they want to destroy our religious liberties; they want to push the homosexual agenda; they seek to have unrestricted abortion; they seek to take away our 2nd amendment rights; they want to economically destroy us by socialism and communism; they seek to corrupt our voting system and so much more!  Certainly Trump isn't perfect but he is the man God chose for this time - warts and all. Rather than destroy the man we should support him for we could be facing a tyrannical government like the Christians face in China if we don't. 

  • OldMike
    Posted: Mon, 04/13/2020 10:39 am

    Authoritarianism?  My, my, how some do go on!

    While it’s not disputed that President Trump does not take criticism well, the political situation here in the United States is in no way close to authoritarianism. 

    If Congress and the Supreme Court are threatened with suspension, martial law is imminent, and elections are indefinitely postponed, then you will know what authoritarianism is. Wikipedia’s definition might help you understand a bit better. 

  • Trumpetly Speaking
    Posted: Mon, 04/13/2020 10:59 am

    Right Old Mike, and potus was the first world leader to ban travel from China in late January so I fail to see how he "shadowed" China. He was called a racist for doing it.  I can't believe I'm defending him, but facts are facts, and truth is truth regardless of how it suits or contradicts our biases.

  • SO
    Posted: Mon, 04/13/2020 03:35 pm

    It seems to me that if "... 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", that it is not truly "harmful to citizens of Taiwan as its government is excluded from emergency meetings, global expert briefings, and information collected from other countries’ health departments."  Rather, it seems that Taiwan is doing fine on its own.  Perhaps it is time for us to consider being less influenced by other nations as well.

  •  JenniMiki70's picture
    JenniMiki70
    Posted: Tue, 04/14/2020 08:13 pm

    I am happy to hear that the USA will no longer send funds to the WHO as of about 7:00 pm EDST. Thank you for insight.