Special Report: Caught in Trump-China feud, WHO leader under siege

Special Report: Caught in Trump-China feud, WHO leader under siege

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When the head of the World Health Organization returned to Beijing from a whirlwind tour in late January, he wanted to publicly praise the Chinese leaders’ initial response to the new coronavirus. A person familiar with the discussion said several advisers suggested that he downplay the news.

After meeting with President Xi Jinping and the Chinese Minister, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus’ knowledge of the new influenza-like virus and the efforts to contain the disease have left Was deeply impressed.

People familiar with the matter said the advisers encouraged Tedros to use less language, out of concerns about how the outside world would view him, but the Director General expressed his firmness, partly because he wanted to ensure China ’s cooperation in responding to the outbreak.

The person familiar with the matter said: “We know what it looks like, and he may sometimes be naive about it.” “But he is also very stubborn.”

Although there is evidence that Chinese officials have silenced the whistleblower and suppressed the news about the epidemic, the head of WHO subsequently praised the efforts of the Chinese leadership to fight the disease. His speech drew criticism from some member states that they remained high. US President Donald Trump led the allegation, accusing WHO of being “centered in China” and suspending U.S. funding for the health agency.

The internal debate on WHO ’s transmission of information around China provides a window into the challenges facing the 72-year-old United Nations organization and its leaders on two key fronts: responding to a deadly pandemic and responding to The hostility of the United States is its largest donor.

Interviews with WHO insiders and diplomats showed that while the agency sought to coordinate a global response to the pandemic, the US offensive had shaken Tedros when it was already difficult. The disease caused by the new coronavirus COVID-19 has killed more than 300,000 people and continues to spread. It is believed that this virus has appeared in a market in Wuhan, China, where live animals are sold.

People familiar with the matter said that Tedros was “obviously frustrated” by Trump ’s move and believed that WHO was used as “political football”.

Michael Ryan, the agency ’s main emergency expert, said of the challenges facing WHO: “We are in the struggle for the lives of all of us.” Ryan said in an interview with Reuters Said that WHO is committed to helping health systems respond, develop vaccines and drugs, and bring the economy back on track.

Ryan said: “This is a big worrying task for any organization.” “I have to deal with the potential possibility now that in the next few months, we will severely damage many vulnerable countries. Funding for first-line basic health services. “

Irish doctor and epidemiologist Ryan added: “ This is changing the system, but it is not destroying it. ”

The WHO stated that Tedros could not be interviewed. He firmly opposed criticizing his claim that Beijing was too fast. He said China’s stringent measures slowed the spread of the virus and allowed other countries to prepare their test kits, emergency wards and health systems. He also said that he hopes the Trump administration will reconsider the freeze, but his main focus is on responding to pandemics and saving lives.

People familiar with the matter said that Tedros knew that his visit and public expression of support might upset China’s political opponents. The two sources said, but from a global health perspective, as the new coronavirus spreads outside China, the head of the agency faces a greater risk of losing Beijing cooperation.

A person familiar with the discussion said, “This is the calculation you did.”

During a two-day visit to Beijing, Tedros obtained the consent of Chinese leaders, allowing WHO experts and a group of international scientists to travel to China to investigate the origin of the outbreak and learn more about the virus and the diseases it causes . The delegation included two Americans.

Ryan, who accompanied the head of the WHO, said that both he and Tedros believed that once they realized China’s containment plan and found a solid foundation, they must support China. The goal of the World Health Organization is to ensure that “actively, as quickly as possible, implement response measures as successfully as possible”. He added: “You must ensure that the commitment to do so is absolute, and if there are problems with implementation, you must ensure that communication is kept open.”

In a follow-up statement, WHO stated that it “appreciated” China because they “cooperated on the issue we sought support”, including isolating the virus and sharing its genetic sequence, which allowed other countries to Conduct testing. At a meeting of the WHO Executive Committee in early February, the agency said: “Most countries have given overwhelming praise for China’s response to this unprecedented outbreak.”

The Trump administration has been criticized domestically for its own handling of the outbreak, but it has not mitigated its recent attacks on WHO and China.

A senior US government official told Reuters that WHO “has repeatedly failed to acknowledge the increasing threat of COVID-19 and China ’s role in the spread of the virus.” The official pointed out that the United States has contributed more to the World Health Organization than China. Even bigger, the official said, the World Health Organization ’s actions were “dangerous and irresponsible,” and they contributed to the public health crisis “not by actively addressing this issue.”

The US official said that, among other health crises, “poor coordination, lack of transparency, and poor leadership have troubled its response” to respond to the threat of COVID-19. “It’s time for the United States to stop providing millions of dollars to an organization that has done more to hinder global health rather than promote it.”

The person in charge of the World Health Organization has always stood on China’s stand. China ’s total investment in the World Health Organization ’s current two-year budget is about one-third of what the United States expects to pay.

In a statement to Reuters, the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said: “Since the outbreak of COVID-19, WHO, under the leadership of Director General Tedros, has been actively performing its responsibilities and adheres to objective, scientific And a just position. “” We pay tribute to the professionalism and spirit of the World Health Organization and will continue to firmly support the central role of the World Health Organization in the global cooperation against pandemic diseases. “

China also rejected US criticism of its response to COVID-19. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that Beijing is “open, transparent and responsible” in sharing information about viruses. It added that Beijing maintained close communication and cooperation with the World Health Organization and “appreciated” the agency’s positive evaluation of China’s response to the epidemic.

The Chinese State Council or Cabinet did not respond to requests for comment.

WHO has been criticized before. In 2009, it declared the H1N1 flu outbreak as a pandemic, and later caused some government criticism, which triggered the country to take expensive measures against the disease, and finally found that the condition was milder than originally thought. The agency and its then Director General Margaret Chan also faced severe criticism for failing to respond quickly enough to the deadly Ebola outbreak in West Africa that began in December 2013.

Chan defended the decision to declare the H1N1 flu pandemic, but she admitted that the World Health Organization was “overwhelmed” by the Ebola outbreak. She said the Ebola outbreak “puts the organization at the core”.

With the spread of COVID-19, the 55-year-old Tedros has become a public face against the virus worldwide, holding press conferences almost every day, convening the head of state to provide support when the virus arrives at home, and frequently tweeting his 1.1 million Fans. He partnered with popular music star Lady Gaga to organize a welfare concert for health workers, which was broadcast online last month.

Tedros is the son of a soldier. He was born in Asmara and became the capital of Eritrea after independence from Ethiopia in 1991. Tedros’s younger brother died of a childhood disease, which the WHO says was considered measles. Tedros is a trained microbiologist who served as the Minister of Health and Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia.

In 2017, Tedros became the first African to lead WHO, despite the potentially devastating problems later in the game, regarding whether he played a potentially destructive role in restricting human rights or covering up the Ethiopian cholera epidemic , But he still won the highest position. He denied the accusation, as did Ethiopia.

As the head of the global health agency, which has offices in 150 countries and has 7,000 employees, he has been praised by world health experts and senior colleagues for implementing the fundamental changes in WHO, including rebuilding the emergency department that Ryan is now leading .

When the disease breaks out, Tedros usually quickly goes to the epicenter himself. During the last two years of the Ebola outbreak in August 2018, he made at least 10 trips to the Democratic Republic of Congo. Before the resurrection last month, the outbreak had almost stopped.

A Western diplomat recalled seeing Tedros cry because a Cameroonian doctor working for WHO was shot and killed in the Ebola hospital in Congo in April 2019. “I’ve seen this kind of enthusiasm. He personally handles things.” The diplomat said.

On December 31, 2019, China notified WHO of a series of pneumonia cases of concern. On January 14th, the World Health Organization said in a tweet that the preliminary investigation by the Chinese authorities found that “there is no clear evidence to show the spread between people.” Trump will quote the statement later to show that the agency has insufficient suspicion of China. On the same day, a WHO expert stated that the possible spread was limited. On January 22, a WHO delegation to China stated that there was evidence from person to person in Wuhan, but more investigation is needed to fully understand it.

In late January, Tedros and three colleagues flew to Beijing. Ryan said: “I think we received the formal invitation at 7:30 in the morning and we boarded at 8:00 in the evening.”

In a meeting with the Chinese President on January 28, the head of WHO discussed the sharing of data and biological materials and other cooperation. Tedros posted a picture of himself shaking hands with Xi Jinping on Twitter, saying they had “a frank conversation” and Xi Jinping was “responsible for a huge national response.”

At a press conference in Geneva the next day, Tedros praised Xi Jinping ’s leadership and said he was “very encouraged and impressed by the president ’s detailed understanding of the epidemic.” The head of the WHO added that China is “fully committed to transparency both internally and externally”.

In contrast, during the outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 2003, the then WHO head Gro Harlem Brundtland publicly criticized China because it was slow Report and share information about the epidemic.

Another WHO official said, “Tedros ’s approach is different from that of Brundtland”. “It took a lot of phone calls and patience.”

Brundtland said in a written reply to Reuters that she publicly stated that China did not provide access to the WHO. She said, “This time is different.”

WHO veterans said that public criticism of the government would make them unwilling to share information about disease outbreaks or cooperate in other ways. Michel Yao, head of WHO ’s emergency operations in Africa, said he has seen some countries close their access to WHO when they feel pressure. Yao Ming told Reuters that this happened after the World Health Organization announced several outbreaks of cholera in Africa. “You have lost the opportunity to access data and the ability to at least assess the risk of specific diseases.”

But Tedros’s enthusiasm for Beijing made some people unhappy. A European envoy who attended the weekly briefings held by Tedros for diplomats from member states said: “When he praises China, he always grinds his teeth.”

The World Health Organization has limited influence on member countries. Without their permission, it has no legal right to enter the country, nor any right to enforce it. Therefore, the main tools available to Tedros are politicization and coaxing its 194 member states to comply with the framework of the International Health Regulations reached in 2005.

Tedros praised many governments fighting the new coronavirus, including South Korea, Italy, Iran and Japan. On March 30, he publicly praised Trump ’s daughter and presidential advisor Ivanka Trump for an article about the US Emergency Relief Act. The tweet was “very good”.

The first WHO official said that among WHO insiders, the view in March was that the relationship with the United States was “good.” Ryan said in an interview that the communication between WHO and Washington in early 2020 was “a normal part of the bumps and tribulations of multilateral organizations.” He added: “As far as I am concerned, I certainly did not realize there was a major problem.”

In a conference call on March 23, Tedros and Trump had a “good and cordial” discussion on COVID-19’s response, and “no suggestions were made on funding,” the WHO stated Said.

Trump initially praised China and its president’s response to the crisis again. By mid-March, he was increasingly critical of Beijing ’s handling of the virus. He said Beijing should take faster action to warn the world. At the time, his own government’s response to the pandemic was widely criticized, including its efforts to test the disease. Trump, who firmly defends his performance, is facing a re-election campaign because the coronavirus has taken the lives of thousands of Americans and destroyed the US economy.

At the same time, the United States and other countries have been urging WHO ’s leadership for a few months to make a stronger statement about the need for transparency and timely sharing of accurate information by Member States, “WHO has not taken these concerns into account Take action. “, A Western diplomat said.

Two European envoys said that Andrew Bremberg, the US ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva and a former White House official, held regular meetings with Tedros to discuss WHO’s response and voice concerns.

The World Health Organization said in a statement that Tedros asked all countries to share information in accordance with international regulations agreed by member states.

On April 7, Trump threatened to withhold WHO ’s funds, criticizing the agency for being too close to China and too slow to alert the world. The agency strongly opposed this allegation. Since Washington is the largest funder of the World Health Organization, this threat has been exposed. According to WHO data, in the current two-year period ending December 2021, it will pay $ 553 million in dues and voluntary contributions, accounting for 9% of the agency ’s approved $ 5.8 billion budget. According to WHO data, this is almost three times China’s share of $ 187.5 million.

The next day, Tedros appeared uneasy at a regular press conference. Once he revealed that he was the target of “racist” remarks or even death threats, and he responded enthusiastically to reporters’ questions for a long time.

Tedros called for unity in his 12-minute response to Trump ’s criticism of WHO and its threat of funding cuts, adding: “If we do n’t do things, we will have many body bags in front of us. “When accusing the WHO of being too close to China, he replied:” We are close to every country. “

The World Health Organization said in a statement that Tedros remained calm and calm at the press conference. He said that the American decision was regrettable. During his three years in office, Trump criticized other multinational organizations and withdrew funds from other UN agencies.

Trump announced the freezing of funds a week later. Countries usually donate to the World Health Organization through dues and voluntary contributions. Another senior US government official said that Washington has paid nearly half of its $ 122 million due in 2020. The official added that Trump’s freeze means that Washington is likely to redistribute the remaining $ 65 million in dues and more than $ 300 million in dues. Plan to donate to other international organizations.

The two Western diplomats said that the suspension of US funds was politically harmful to the World Health Organization, not to the agency ’s current plan, which is currently funded by the agency. But they also expressed concern about the possible long-term effects of the freeze, especially the central plan for polio, AIDS, and immunizations supported by the Washington Plan donation.

A second WHO official said: “This is a heavy blow to WHO and Tedros Island.”

When asked about his relationship with the United States, Tedros told reporters on May 1: “We have been in constant contact and we work together.” A WHO spokeswoman said, Dialogue and technical cooperation between the agency and Washington continue. The US delegation to the United Nations in Geneva declined to comment.

Trump is not the only one urging WHO. Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for an independent review of the outbreak and WHO ’s response. The European Union has proposed a resolution requesting timely assessment of pandemic response measures including WHO. This idea will be considered at the WHO Ministerial Meeting next week.

The WHO stated that Tedros promised to conduct a post-pandemic review of the agency ’s performance, including by an independent WHO oversight body, which is a routine practice after a health crisis.

But so far, most major donors have closed their ranks around the World Health Organization. France, Germany and the United Kingdom expressed support for the agency and said it was time to concentrate on fighting the epidemic rather than sharing responsibilities. A German government official said it was “ridiculous” for the United States to focus on past events rather than join the fight against outbreaks. One of his advisers said that French President Emmanuel Macron supports WHO because he believes it is essential to effectively respond to the crisis.

The Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement that Beijing supported the WHO Director-General to set up a review committee to assess the global response to COVID-19 “at an appropriate time after the end of the pandemic.” It added that it objected to the eagerness of some countries to start reviewing WHO and tracing the origin of the virus. It said it was an attempt to “politicize the epidemic” and interfere with WHO’s work.

WHO insiders saw some kind of victory in an institutional initiative launched via webcast on April 24. The initiative became a public display of support for the organization and its leaders. During the event, with the theme of accelerating the detection of anti-COVID-19, the development of drugs and vaccines, world leaders who appeared through video links expressed their gratitude and appreciation to Tedros and the World Health Organization.

When the French President addressed Tedros as “My Friend”, he urged major countries including China and the United States to jointly support this initiative. Macron said: “The battle with COVID-19 is the common interest of mankind. To win this battle, there should be no differences.”

A second WHO official said: “It feels like a shot.” “It feels like someone is fighting us.”

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