WASHINGTON, D.C., April 13, 2021 – While China deserves condemnation for blocking access to critical COVID-19 data and weaponizing misinformation to promote conspiracy theories, the World Health Organization (WHO) bears significant responsibility for the world being no closer to understanding the virus’s true origins. As a result, the United States should press for major reforms at the international organization before the next pandemic strikes, according to a new report issued today.
The findings are from a new report, “Diplomatic Malpractice: Reforming the WHO After China’s COVID Cover-up,” issued today by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).
FDD Adjunct Fellow Craig Singleton writes that the road to preventing the next pandemic runs not through Beijing, but Geneva, where the WHO is headquartered. And while no amount of U.S. pressure is going to convince China to acknowledge its COVID-19 deceptions, he says Washington can and should use its significant financial leverage at the WHO to promote meaningful reform.
“Chinese authorities have actively obstructed the investigation into COVID-19’s origins and deserve ample condemnation for putting global health at risk. Yet the WHO also bears substantial responsibility for the current impasse,” Singleton writes. “It has resisted multiple efforts to implement reforms after previous failures to deal effectively with outbreaks of infectious diseases, including SARS and Ebola. Nor does the WHO’s current leadership appear capable of standing up to member states such as China that undermine its work.”
Central to any modernization effort should be renegotiating the global health treaty that governs global pandemic surveillance, he writes, as well as establishing first-of-its-kind global health sanctions that could be levied during a health crisis to compel stakeholder compliance and raise public awareness about emerging outbreaks.
In Washington, Congress must also better wield its appropriations powers to exercise greater control over the WHO’s redundant programming and ever-expanding mandate, including its promotion of socialized medicine, Singleton writes.
“The United States also bears some responsibility for the WHO’s flawed performance, since Washington has donated billions of taxpayer dollars to the organization without demanding any accountability in return,” he writes.
The report argues that the U.S. must also call for the UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services to open an independent investigation into the WHO’s COVID-19 response, just as it did to uncover UN fraud in the Iraq Oil-for-Food Program. Moreover, Washington should advocate for the reinstatement of Taiwan’s WHO observer status, which the organization severed because of political pressure from Beijing.
Craig Singleton is an adjunct fellow at FDD, where he analyzes both great power competition with China and international organization reform. He previously spent more than a decade as a senior U.S. diplomat, completing multiple overseas assignments in the Middle East and Latin America. While stationed in Washington, Craig focused on developing policies aimed at confronting China’s malign influence activities and North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.
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