September 22, 2021 | The Hill

It’s time for Congress to act on WHO reform

September 22, 2021 | The Hill

It’s time for Congress to act on WHO reform

Excerpt

This week, the Biden administration missed the deadline to nominate a candidate to challenge embattled World Health Organization (WHO) Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus in his quest for a second five-year term. This unforced diplomatic error, one welcomed in Beijing, all but assures Tedros’ reelection. It also confirms the Biden administration lacks a serious strategy to overhaul the beleaguered global health body. At a time of skyrocketing COVID-19 infection rates and still unanswered questions about the virus’ origins, the U.S. has a responsibility to address the WHO’s failings. Enter Congress.

The need for action has been building since the pandemic’s first days, when many began to question Tedros’ perceived deference to the Chinese Communist Party. After meeting with Xi Jinping in January 2020, Tedros praised China’s pandemic mismanagement, claiming that Beijing’s response had set a “new standard.” In the intervening months, the WHO chief hewed closely to China’s preferred political narratives about the pandemic and its origins. Over Washington’s objections, Tedros also excluded Taiwan from the WHO’s 2021 annual agenda setting meeting. This particular incident highlighted Beijing’s outsized influence over Tedros, even though China’s contributions account for less than 1.5 percent of the WHO’s budget.   

But, in a move designed to alleviate Western concerns, Tedros moderated his messaging in the lead up to this month’s nominating deadline. After a Dutch documentary exposed how the lead scientist investigating the WHO’s COVID-19 origins altered the team’s final report in response to Chinese pressure, Tedros admitted it had been “premature” to rule out the so-called lab leak theory. Weeks later, Tedros expressed support for a European-led initiative to negotiate a new global health treaty. The proposal, which Beijing and Moscow are actively undermining, includes plans for a new dispute-resolution mechanism to penalize countries which refuse to cooperate with future pandemic investigations. 

Craig Singleton, a national security expert and former U.S. diplomat, is an adjunct China fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a Washington, DC-based, non-partisan research institute focusing on national security and foreign policy.

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Issues:

China COVID-19 International Organizations