I’ll bet they do. Those serious concerns have plenty to do with losing resources for one of China’s most effective allies in their propaganda war more than fighting the COVID-19 pandemic that China amplified through its deliberate cover-up. After Donald Trump announced yesterday that the US would withhold funds from the World Health Organization pending an investigation into their misinformation on the pandemic, China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian criticized the move in a press conference:
At his Wednesday press conference, Zhao attacked President Donald Trump’s decision to freeze U.S. funding for the WHO, warning the move will undermine global efforts to defeat COVID-19 coronavirus. Zhao said the president’s decision will “weaken the WHO’s capabilities and undermine international cooperation.”
Zhao added that China has “serious concerns” over the freeze, though said Beijing “will as always support the WHO in playing an important role in international public health and global anti-epidemic response.”
It doesn’t help China’s credibility much to leave this messaging to Zhao Lijian. The last time we heard from Zhao, he claimed that COVID-19 came from the US Army in an effort to discredit Beijing. Zhao also spread disinformation about US COVID-19 infections in September, a claim that China’s ambassador to the US later publicly refuted:
US CDC admitted some #COVID19 patients were misdiagnosed as flu during 2019 flu season. 34 million infected & 20000 died. If #COVID19 began last September, & US has been lack of testing ability, how many would have been infected? US should find out when patient zero appeared.
— Lijian Zhao 赵立坚 (@zlj517) March 22, 2020
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian took to Twitter on Friday to double down on an unproven claim that the US military brought the new coronavirus to the central city of Wuhan, where the outbreak began.
Zhao urged his more than 287,000 followers in two tweets on Friday morning to widely share an allegation from a Canada-based conspiracy website that the coronavirus – which has become a global pandemic – originated in the US rather than the Wuhan seafood market that is thought to be its source.
That infuriated the White House, forcing ambassador to distance Beijing from Zhao — at least for the moment:
Ambassador Cui Tiankai said in an interview with “Axios on HBO” that he stood by his Feb. 9 statement that it would be “crazy” to spread such theories, even though a foreign ministry spokesman has repeatedly floated the idea on Twitter in recent weeks.
“Such speculation will help nobody. It’s very harmful,” Cui told Axios. “Eventually, we must have an answer to where the virus originally came from. But this is the job for the scientists to do, not for diplomats.”
Cui’s comments represent a sharp public rebuke to foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian, who has publicly questioned whether the virus originated in China and even touted the idea that it may have been introduced by U.S. Army athletes. Such public differences are rare among Chinese officials who are famous for their ability to stick closely to the Communist Party’s official line.
If China expects us to take these “concerns” seriously, then perhaps they should express them in some other channel than through their rabid propagandist. Using Zhao to send this message strongly suggests that China sees WHO as an asset in their propaganda war, not so much to promote world health. If they were concerned about fighting COVID-19, they would share the real data on infections in China with WHO — and stop lying to everyone else about it, too.
At any rate, the funding freeze doesn’t mean that the US will stop working with WHO. CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield pledged to continue joint efforts with the organization, saying that funding decisions were not part of his purview:
“You know, I’m just going to say the WHO has been a longstanding partner for CDC. We’ve worked together to fight health crises all around the world. We continue to do that,” Redfield told “CBS This Morning,” citing ongoing joint efforts to quash the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
“WHO has been a long-term and still is a great partner for us. We’re going to continue to do all we can together to try to limit this,” he added, referring to the coronavirus.
That makes sense; as long as they are operating, there’s no reason not to work with them to get whatever information we can. But as long as China’s using them as their propaganda arm and providing them with unreliable data, there’s always going to be a big asterisk on whatever data they do provide. And American dollars should go to resources that don’t operate as mouthpieces for Beijing in or out of a crisis.
Finally, let’s mull over this warning from the Washington Post, which sees a very dark outcome from defunding WHO:
I think we’re already there — and that’s the problem.