President Donald Trump’s effort to hold the World Health Organization accountable for its bungled handling of the coronavirus is well justified. It is outrageous to expect taxpayers to continue supporting an international body that acts as a lap dog for Beijing.
If the WHO wants to change course and return to its original remit of serious global health protection, it can do so. If not, as Trump indicated in his letter to the body, the WHO should lose U.S. funding.
Rather than tweeting hyperbolic messages at the WHO’s leadership, Trump’s letter provides a calm, forensic documentation of the WHO’s negligence. The centerpiece of the letter is its reporting of what China and the WHO knew and did not do in the days and weeks before the virus became a truly global pandemic.
Trump points out that even as doctors in Wuhan warned that an infectious virus was spreading, China refused to warn the world: “International health regulations require countries to report the risk of a health emergency within 24 hours.” He continues, “But China did not inform the WHO of Wuhan’s several cases of pneumonia, of unknown origin, until December 31, 2019, even though it likely had knowledge of these cases days or weeks earlier.”
Trump observes that Dr. Zhang Yongzhen “told Chinese authorities on January 5, 2020, that he had sequenced the genome of the virus. There was no publication of this information until six days later, on January 11, 2020, when Dr. Zhang self-posted it online. The next day, Chinese authorities closed his lab for ‘rectification.’” This clear identification of China’s cover-up is important for two reasons. First, because it shows China had much more interest in hiding what was happening in Wuhan than it had interest in helping the world prepare for what Wuhan’s situation might mean more broadly. Second, because it shows the underlying nature of the Chinese Communist Party — namely, its disregard for human rights.
Trump continues on this theme, pointing out three WHO statements that were “grossly inaccurate or misleading.” He notes the WHO’s Jan. 14 endorsement of China’s claim that there was no evidence of human-to-human transmission. He references WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’s Jan. 22 assertion that the virus posed no threat to global public health. And Trump documents Tedros’s Jan. 28 praise for China’s “transparency” in dealing with the crisis — a choice of words that, Trump suggests, rings hollow in the context of China’s harassment of doctors who sought to raise the alarm earlier.
But perhaps the most damning element of Trump’s letter is its documenting of the difference between how the WHO addressed Chinese health protection measures and U.S. health protection measures.
The president asks why the WHO praised China’s lockdown of the city of Wuhan but simultaneously opposed Trump’s closing of U.S. borders to travel from China. Addressing the WHO, Trump asserts that “your political gamesmanship on this issue was deadly.”
The letter continues in this vein as it traverses the WHO’s inadequate or deceptive actions in February. Then comes the kicker: “And by the time you finally declared the virus a pandemic on March 11, 2020, it had killed more than 4,000 people and infected more than 100,000 people in at least 114 countries around the world.”
Far too little, far too late.
Trump’s theme is that the WHO, under Tedros’ leadership, will bow to Beijing blindly without any limit. Referencing China’s prejudice against African migrant workers on its soil, Trump tells Tedros, “You have not commented on China’s racially discriminatory actions. You have, however, baselessly labeled as racist Taiwan’s well-founded complaints about your mishandling of this pandemic.”
The implication: The WHO is a subjugated province of the Chinese Communist Party.
Trump quite politely but firmly issues his warning. “If the WHO does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days,” he says, “I will make my temporary freeze of U.S. funding to the WHO permanent and reconsider our membership in the organization. I cannot allow American taxpayer dollars to continue to finance an organization that, in its present state, is so clearly not serving America’s interests.”
Trump is right. What is happening to the world is a disaster not directly of any nation’s making. Still, this disaster has been made far worse than it might have been by two political entities: the Chinese Communist Party and the World Health Organization. The idea that American wealth should be sacrificed to the latter so that it can continue to serve the former is absurd. Trump has put the WHO on notice. The WHO must now decide what it values more: the truth and global health or its continued shallow service of Chinese President Xi Jinping.