On April 14, 2020, President Donald J. Trump announced the United States (US) would be withholding funds from the World Health Organization (WHO) as concerns rise over the People's Republic of China's (PRC) influence within the United Nations (UN) organization. WHO receives nearly $400 million to $500 million annually from the United States, while the PRC provides less than $29,000,000.
In Beijing, PRC foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian announced China has, "serious concerns" about the decision to revoke financial support during the crisis, "This U.S. decision will weaken the WHO’s capabilities and undermine international cooperation." He went on to state, “China will, as always, support the WHO in playing an important role in international public health and global anti-epidemic response... We urge the United States to earnestly fulfill their responsibilities and obligations, and support the WHO-led international action against the epidemic."
Fears over the reliability of WHO emerged as COVID-19 spread across the globe. Throughout January, for example, the World Health Organization continued to spread Chinese misinformation, namely that COVID-19 did not spread through human-to-human transmission.
An investigation conducted by the Intelligence Ledger in March revealed that on multiple occasions this lie was repeated by WHO to the international community, when in reality, the opposite was true. Not only did the organization repeat Beijing's claims word for word, but actively sought to discourage nation-states from closing their borders to the communist state.
WHO also follows official PRC policy, even in times of desperate need, and refuses to recognize Taiwan in any way. For over fifty years, the PRC has stymied attempts by Taiwan, otherwise known as the Republic of China, to join international organizations. The PRC and Chinese Communist Party have considered Taiwan as part of mainland China despite their failure to exercise control over the island through military power. Taiwan's government, situated in Taipei, meets all the legal elements of statehood required by the international community, and maintains diplomatic relations with 15 countries. Despite this, the PRC has been able hinder such a declaration from the United Nations, thanks to its seat on the organization's Security Council and rising status as a great power.
The small island nation was one of the earliest countries to grapple with COVID-19. In fact, Taiwanese officials tried as early as December to warn WHO about the characteristics of the virus, including about human-to-human transmission. WHO ignored these warnings, and kept Taiwan out of its intelligence network.
On March 28, 2020, this issue was brought to the forefront of public attention when Dr. Bruce Aylward, a senior WHO official, was asked if the organization would consider Taiwan's membership now that the small nation had proven its worth.
The exchange lasted less than a minute, but highlighted the difficulties Taipei faces in its quest to become an internationally recognized state.
Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus announced that the World Health Organization would review the impact of the U.S. decision on its work, noting in a statement that the agency would, “work with our partners to fill any financial gaps we face and to ensure our work continues uninterrupted.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has been the largest, deadliest, and most impactful event to occur as of yet in the 21st century. Since being discovered in People's Republic of China, the virus has caused the deaths of well over 129,000 people and infected nearly 2,000,000.
The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official policy or position of the United States Army, Department of Defense, or the United States Government.