The global focus on the coronavirus pandemic has unfortunately been deflected by Donald Trump, who a fortnight ago was forthright enough to declare that the number of deaths in the United States would cross 100,000, thus rendering one of the world’s oldest democracies also the most acutely affected.
Having threatened to truncate funding to the World Health Organization, he has now threatened to pull the US out of the global body altogether unless it makes “major substantive improvements”.
Diplomatically enough, he has stopped short of spelling out the “substantive improvements” that he wants WHO to effect. But he has resolved to go off at a tangent in his dealings with a global entity. At this catastrophic juncture, the comity of nations deserved better than a trilateral conflict of bruised egos between the People’s Republic of China, the United States and WHO.
In a four-page letter to the WHO director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, Trump claimed the organization had shown an “alarming lack of independence” from China and has accused Tedros of presiding over “repeated missteps that have been extremely costly for the world”.
The letter, he said, followed a US investigation into WHO’s “failed response to the Covid-19 outbreak”. Beijing, it hardly needs emphasis, will sharply differ. Suffice it to register that the performance of WHO, questionable though it may be, cannot be a matter of subjective reflection. The diplomatic kerfuffle has been unwarranted, specifically Trump’s perception that WHO showed ‘alarming lack of independence’ from China.
Not that the UN entity’s performance since March has been stellar; but a contrived evaluation is scarcely a matter of interest to the sick and the dying. Just as irrelevant as the unsolicited information that the President of the United States of America takes hydroxychloroquine ~ a drug for malaria ~ regularly despite warnings from his administration that it is dangerous. Even the timeline is calculative.
On Tuesday, WHO’s member states had agreed to hold an independent investigation ~ put forward in a resolution by the European Union ~ into how the coronavirus originated and was handled. Exactly 24 hours earlier ~ precisely on Monday night ~ the President published the letter, citing a timeline of the organization’s perceived failings.
The letter was based on a selective reading of the pandemic, highlighting where WHO had publicised Chinese findings on the nature of the disease (which indeed it had), but glossing over warnings from the organization about the dangers of the contagion. Donald Trump must hold his fire.