NOTICE | Is China the new leader on the world health scene?

Editor’s note: Michael Bociurkiw is a global affairs analyst, former president of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and host of the Global Impact podcast. Follow him on Twitter @WorldAffairsPro. The opinions expressed in this comment are those of the author. See more at

(CNN) – The World Health Assembly (WHA), the most important event on the world health agenda, held on May 18 and 19, can be easily summed up: the Trump administration has threatened to withdraw support from the vital United Nations agency while fighting a global pandemic, and Chinese President Xi Jinping has launched a new lifeline for him.

Xi –widely criticized for his government’s failure to alert the situation in Wuhanwhere the news started coronavirus-, was able to handle the 73 WHA assembly to make a much-needed makeover for China. During, United States He withdrew, threatening to withdraw funds and his belonging to the World Health Organization (WHO), which could hamper its ability to provide a robust response to the current covid-19 pandemic.

In a broader context, what we saw at WHA was further evidence of the Trump administration’s abdication of the traditional role of the United States as the guarantor of globalization and the unintentional creation of a vacuum for the central kingdom (as China calls itself) exploits it.

When it addressed the 194 member states by videoconference, Xi promised $ 2 billion for two years to fight the virus, a “central humanitarian response station” in China and assistance to the mainland African to strengthen your preparation for illness.

This promise is important amid fears that Africa, with its congested cities and weak health systems, you run a high risk of having high transmission rates.

China’s generosity is also synchronized with its daring efforts to attract African countries with billions of loans through its controversial Belt and road initiative.

As for the United States, their presence at the WHA was more than a cameo for the Secretary of Health and Social Services Alex Azar. In a brief statement, he noted the failure of WHO in its response to the pandemic and said that the organization should “become much more transparent and much more responsible

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump had his own plan on how to participate in the assembly. He sent a scathing letter, threatening to withdraw the United States from the organization and freeze funds in case “do not commit to making substantial substantial improvements in the next 30 days

The United States is by far the largest contributor to WHO, followed by China. Trump has criticized Beijing’s support for the UN agency, and one of its officials has previously described the $ 2 billion pledge as a “sign” of intent.

But symbolically or not, the contribution remains vital for the organization, which has a budget of $ 2.3 billion that its CEO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, described as “very small” and comparable to “a medium-sized hospital in the developed world“The executive director of the WHO health emergencies program, Dr. Michael Ryan, noted that the withdrawal of US funds will have”a great implication for the provision of health services to some of the most vulnerable people in the world

It remains to be seen whether the WHO, which is faced with a multitude of technical problems during assembly, can meet the expectations of the United States. For his part, Tedros promised an evaluation of the management of the pandemic by WHO “as soon as possible

United States only

Trump has already withdrawn the United States from other United Nations agencies, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR) and agreements as important as the Paris Climate Agreement. The latest threat to end America’s participation in WHO appears to be an attempt to divert attention from its own incompetence in response to the Covid-19 epidemic, which to date has infected more 1.5 million Americans and killed over 93,000.

My fear is that, even with a new administration, the process of restoring America’s reputation and influence on the international stage may be slow: perceptions change, alliances change, and politicians and professionals continue.

It’s a feeling shared by him Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, who has been sent from the United States to South Korea, Russia and NATO and is the former NATO Assistant Secretary General. He said to me, “Even if the Democrats take over the White House, it will take a long time to rebuild the habits of American leaders and restore the confidence of our traditional allies, lost in the face of the coronavirus and the withdrawal of the WHO.

“I think the attitudes that are reflected now in this Politics abdication of leadership, they have deep roots in certain parts of the American political body and it will not be easy, even with a change of administration, to return to the previous situation, “said Vershbow.

Global competition for appeals against Covid-19

The United States is also alone in its approach to developing a covid-19 rescue vaccine with an “America First” policy. Just before WHA, more than 140 world leaders and experts have signed an open letter promoting a “popular vaccine”, patent free, free and widely produced.

The effort, called “Operation Warp Speed” could cost the U.S. government hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a senior government official. The official said there was a financial risk if the doses weren’t effective, but it was worth it.

However, even if the U.S.-led effort succeeds, the cost of guarantees could not only be a stronger China, but also a drop in the U.S.’s international stature and an unfortunate loss of goodwill from other countries. and multilateral agencies during the next pandemic or global crisis.

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