By Harold Rook
As I’m sure we are all aware of by now, the novel coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2/COVID-19/Chinese Virus/CCP Virus/whatever you’d like to call it) has grinded the nation to a halt. Outside of making venturing outdoors feel like you are in a vacant post-apocalyptic dystopia ala Mad Max, the officially declared pandemic has almost the entire population in quarantine, with new public guidelines such as facemasks and social distancing becoming the norm. The effects of the outbreak can be felt in virtually all areas of life; the stock market has experienced extreme volatility, swinging from downturn to recovery; public universities have been closed and switched to online learning; the healthcare sector has swelled with patients and is stretched incredibly thin. In uncertain times such as this, citizens need a leader or organization that could take decisive action. Naturally, many people have turned to the World Health Organization (WHO) to assist us in such dire times, given that they are the perceived arbitars of public health. So, when President Donald Trump announced he was withholding funds to the WHO, many scratched their heads. Why would he do this? Surely, the WHO is an impeccable organization that adequately uses their funds and resources against health-threats across the world? Is this an ego-trip for Trump, playing with the lives of millions of Americans? Or is something else at work?
As with much of Trump’s focus on international trade and politics, the driving force behind this announcement is a culprit that was also the origin of the pandemic: China. Calling the organization very “China-centric”, Trump leveled that the WHO was operating in a manner that makes it seem as though the international body was deferring to China. Pointing to the disparity in funding between the United States and China, Trump argued that an investigation into the WHO’s China dealings was in order, and raised the question of whether US funding should halt funds. Ignoring the fact that the president doesn’t have complete authority as to decide where government funds are used (Congress does, although he can freeze funds) and that in January Trump had praised China for its handling of the outbreak, the Director-General of the WHO, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, responded to the threat of cutting funding, stating that, in a time of crisis, “politicalization” of the issue would only exacerbate the pandemic. This was followed up with other world leaders noting the essential role that the WHO plays in solving this crisis, with figures such as French President Emmanuel Macron, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and the African Union’s chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat emphasizing their backing of Ghebreyesus and the WHO. This leads us to ask two essential questions: what is the relationship between the WHO and China, and how are funds used by this organization?
Let’s start with the first point; is the WHO actually “China-centric,” or is there no bias at play in this situation? As we all know, the novel coronavirus first started in Wuhan, China, with the first reported case occurring some time in late November 2019. Later actions taken by China included attempts to suppress news of the outbreak, claiming the virus doesn’t spread from human-to-human, declaring a “people’s war,” and closing off entire provinces, while taking measures that many would call “draconian.” This didn’t stop Dr. Ghebreyesus from praising China for its openness and “transparency.” As I noted previously in “Cracking Open a Case of Corona,” Dr. Ghebreyesus is quite the shady character; not only is he a member of a Marxist-Leninist Party in Ethiopia, but China and Ethiopia are partnered in the Belt and Road Initiative, which may lead many to question if Ghebreyesus has an ulterior agenda. However, there are other connections that I neglected to mention about Ghebreyesus; following his election to Director-General in 2017, Dr. Ghebreyesus attempted to have Robert Mugabe, the former socialist leader of Zimbabwe, positioned as Goodwill Ambassador, with China being one of the most ardent supporters of this motion. What’s more, Chinese funding to the WHO increased significantly following his ascension to Director-General, going up by as much as $15 million by 2019. And here’s the absolute worst part about Dr. Ghebreyesus…he has NEVER been a medical doctor! Gasp! How scandalous! All of this, among other things, has many calling for his resignation, with a petition gaining as much as 750,000 signatures.
Beyond the connection that Ghebreyesus seems to have with China, there also seems to be a willingness on part of the WHO to exclude Taiwan from the global health discussion, in line with China’s “one state” policy. To briefly summarize, China views Taiwan as a province under its control, often denoting it to being Chinese Taipei. Functionally, however, this isn’t the case; Taiwan is a fully independent country, complete with its own democratic government that had fled to the island following the conclusion of the Chinese Civil War, and is a key American ally in the region. Nevertheless, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) refuses to recognize Taiwanese sovereignty, and has often advocated for international bodies and other governments to follow suit. Nowhere is this clearer than with how the WHO has treated Taiwan throughout the pandemic; following the initial outbreak in China, the WHO believed initial reports from the CCP that the virus wasn’t capable of spreading from human-to-human on January 14th. However, Taiwan, having also begun to experience several outbreaks, determined that, by the contrary, the coronavirus spread through human-to-human, and warned the WHO of the severity of the situation a full two weeks before taking in China’s reports. How does the WHO respond to such valuable information? It covers its ears, closes its eyes, and shouts “LA LA LA LA LA, I’M NOT LISTENING!” In addition, Taiwan was also denied access to important intel from the WHO regarding COVID-19. When questioned about this stonewalling of Taiwan by a Hong Kong reporter, assistant Director-General Bruce Aylward, in what can only be described as the most surreal and blatant attempt to obey his CCP overlords, at first pretends not to hear the question, before hanging up when it is repeated. Needless to say, he was removed from the WHO website following this stunt. Most impressively, Dr. Ghebreyesus, in a recent announcement, accused the Taiwan government of leading an online campaign to harass him with death threats and racism. Sounds perfectly plausible to me, and not some attempt to justify keeping Taiwan in the dark at the behest of China. To say that the WHO is “China-centric” may be a slight overstatement, but it is far from wrong.
There is also the question as to how the WHO is utilizing its budget, and what role the United States plays in financing the organization. The WHO itself is funded through a combination of charity, NGOs, individual donation, and member-state contributions, with the United States accounting for approximately 15% of its total budget. According to Reuters, the United States contributes as much as $400 million to the WHO, while being committed to providing the health organization $893 million in a two year period. This amount is over two times the amount of money provided by the next largest donor, making the United States one of the most important funders for the WHO. Many proponents for the WHO argue that its $4.4 billion budget is necessary, stating that this is already a measly amount of funds for the tasks it must address. It should be noted, however, that the WHO has had a history of allocating these funds for purposes that don’t necessarily benefit global health. During the ebola outbreak in Africa between 2014 to 2016, the WHO was one of the leading organizations to tackle the issue. However, to the shock of many, the Associated Press found that, of the budget raised, $200 million went into luxury travel expenses and accommodations, surpassing the funds used for fighting AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria COMBINED! But don’t worry, because this was before Dr. Ghebreyesus was elected, and he promised that corruption and misuse of funds would significantly decrease. Kinda a weird flex for a campaign promise, acknowledging your own organization’s corruption, but ok I guess. So did the budget get used appropriately during his leadership? As of the most recent findings by the Associated Press, expenses for luxury travel fell to $192 million. So, no. And this does not include off-the-books expenses that many countries provide to WHO officials, often to curry favor. I wonder who may be behind that. *Cough*China*Cough*.