Trump’s risky bet
The author is the Washington correspondent of the JoongAng Ilbo.
“The Chinese government is to be congratulated for the extraordinary measures it has taken. I left in absolutely no doubt about China’s commitment to transparency.”
“China has been working very hard to contain the coronavirus. The United States greatly appreciates their efforts and transparency.”
Around the same time, two people said the same thing. The former is a remark by World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Jan. 30, and the latter is a tweet by U.S. President Donald Trump on Jan. 24. The two are now in a confrontation over the United States suspending its contribution to the WHO, but only two months ago, they both sent compliments to China.
Trump decided to stop funding to the WHO because he needs a scapegoat for the failure to control Covid-19 as damage from the epidemic grows. He claimed that WHO sided with China and covered up the spread of Covid-19 and their mistakes caused too many deaths. He copied the criticism he receives domestically. Trump made the WHO nervous by announcing the postponement of the annual $500 million contribution, which is the largest among members. Trump’s trick of making a deal with money to get what he wants — as seen in the Ukraine scandal — is being played again.
The WHO cannot avoid accountability easily, as it delivered China’s unilateral claims without verification. On Jan. 14, the WHO asserted that the Chinese government found no clear evidence of Covid-19 spreading between humans. As the declaration of an international public health crisis was made too late, we could not even call it a pandemic. The praise that China’s actions delayed the spread to other countries is far from the reality in which more than 2 million people have been infected and the global economy is shaken.
Trump is also half-right. The WHO praised China but actually sounded alarms to prepare for Covid-19. The WHO head repeatedly said that chances to react would diminish as time goes by. Trump neglected the unimaginable attack of the virus as he was immersed in the impeachment trial in January 2019 and the upcoming presidential election in November.
Tightening the money flow to the WHO is a dangerous action as underdeveloped and developing countries with little response capacity solely rely on it. Most of all, if the United States stops funding, China will fill in the gap. That will allow China to grow its influence, which Trump does not want to happen.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 17, Page 28