“It is self-explanatory,” Donald Trump declared about his letter to World Health Organization director-general Tedros Ghebreyesus, but at the least, it’s not subtle. The four-page missive lists a number of WHO’s failings in the COVID-19 crisis, but Trump’s main criticism focuses on the organization’s prioritizing China’s political agenda over world health. The US is willing to help WHO reform itself, and has already offered advice on how to do so, Trump wrote, but there’s a time limit for action.
In 30 days, WHO either has to “commit to major substantive improvements” and “actually demonstrate independence from China,” or the US will leave WHO permanently — and take our cash with us:
This is the letter sent to Dr. Tedros of the World Health Organization. It is self-explanatory! pic.twitter.com/pF2kzPUpDv
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 19, 2020
The letter, which Trump publicly revealed in a tweet Monday evening and pinned to his Twitter account, listed a number of criticisms directed at the WHO concerning its initial response to the novel coronavirus in the early days of the outbreak in China. The letter claimed the WHO “ignored credible reports of the virus” and accused the organization of acting in an obsequious manner toward the People’s Republic of China, including shunting Taiwanese health assessments and caving into pressure from Chinese President Xi Jinping.
The letter, addressed to Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, went on to say that the WHO neglected to declare an emergency and acted with delayed urgency due to pressure from the Chinese government. It continued that if the WHO “does not commit to major substantive improvements within the next 30 days, I will make my temporary freeze of United States funding to the World Health Organization 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’s letter read.
Or really the world’s interests, as much of the rest of the world has concluded as well. Over 100 member states have signed onto a demand to have the UN General Assembly investigate the origins of COVID-19 and the manner in which the outbreak first got handled. That is not even a veiled shot at Beijing and Tedros; its animus is clear enough that China at first threatened other countries for proposing it, and then shifted to stall tactics when bullying backfired. The frustration and anger with China and WHO has become near-universal.
If Trump’s letter lacks subtlety, it’s because the Tedros-led WHO’s sellout to Beijing and the Xi Jinping regime is no less obvious. Trump points out in his letter that Tedros’ predecessor Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland stood up to China in the SARS outbreak of 2002-3 to contrast his performance with hers. “She also did not hesitate to criticize China,” Trump wrote, “for endangering global health by attempting to cover up the outbreak through its usual playbook of arresting whistleblowers and censoring media. Many lives could have been saved,” Trump concludes his argument, “had you followed Dr. Brundtland’s example.”
It’s almost certain, however, that China backed Tedros because of Dr. Bruntland’s example. Tedros had proven much more malleable to political pressure in Ethiopia, where he assisted the government’s campaigns of denial in cholera outbreaks. Canada’s Globe and Mail took a belated look back at Tedros’ track record late last month:
For many years, health experts in Ethiopia noticed a strange phenomenon: The government was refusing to acknowledge cholera outbreaks.
Instead, the authorities labelled the outbreaks as “acute watery diarrhea” – a broader term that includes milder diseases. Research by Human Rights Watch found that the Ethiopian government was pressuring its health workers to avoid any mention of cholera, which could damage the country’s image and deter tourists.
Throughout this period, one of the most powerful officials in Ethiopia’s authoritarian government was Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, first as health minister and then foreign minister. In 2017, he was elected to a new post: director-general of the World Health Organization.
Critics say the cholera saga in Ethiopia is a sign that Dr. Tedros is comfortable with the secrecy of autocratic states – a tendency that may have led him to accept China’s earliest reports on the novel coronavirus outbreak in December and January without challenging its officials with tough questions.
If yesterday’s WHO conference is any guide, Tedros isn’t exactly cutting those ties to the regime that got him the job in the first place. More than two dozen members demanded that Taiwan be granted an official status with WHO, but got rejected:
Ahead of the meeting, the United States and 28 other countries called for Taiwan to be admitted to the meeting as an observer, given its success in recognizing the coronavirus threat early and warding it off at home. Beijing, though, views the island as a part of China and has spent decades trying to make its government an international pariah. Ultimately, the WHO did not extend an invitation to Taiwan, which withdrew its bid for observer status.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo used the occasion to castigate WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who critics say has been too conciliatory to Beijing. “The Director-General’s lack of independence deprives the Assembly of Taiwan’s renowned scientific expertise on pandemic disease, and further damages the WHO’s credibility and effectiveness at a time when the world needs it the most,” Pompeo said in a statement. ….
But even if it’s not present in this week’s major meetings, Taiwan is having a global moment. Its deft management of the crisis — with only seven reported coronavirus-related deaths — was a mark of efficient, transparent governance and a society with recent experience handling deadly outbreaks. Like China, Taiwan launched its own soft-power initiative to send medical aid and relief around the world, efforts that won widespread plaudits, especially in countries where public attitudes are souring on Beijing.
This is truly the canary in the corruptocrat-China coal mine. If WHO really had global health as its priority, Taiwan’s input would not just have been welcomed at this conference, it would have been sought out for best-practices instruction. The only reason for Taiwan’s exclusion is appeasement of Xi and Beijing.
Tedros needs to go if WHO ever wants to recover its credibility. He never should have been appointed in the first place, a decision which turned out to have massively fatal consequences. Unless WHO reforms itself, we will have better results putting that cash into partnership with other countries who won’t sell out to tyrants and that put global health and science above the whims of dictatorial regimes.