Coronavirus —

Editor’s Note: Michael Bociurkiw is a global affairs analyst, former spokesperson for 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 the author’s own. See more at

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

Widely criticized for his government’s failure to alert the situation in Wuhan, where the outbreak of the new coronavirus began, Xi was able to manipulate the WHA 73rd Assembly into making a much-needed makeover for China. Meanwhile, the United States withdrew, threatening to withdraw funds and its membership in the World Health Organization (WHO), which could hinder its ability to provide a robust response to the ongoing 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 guarantor of globalization, and the involuntary creation of a vacuum for the Central Kingdom (as China calls itself) exploit it.

Speaking to the 194 member states by videoconference, Xi pledged $ 2 billion over two years to combat the virus, a “central humanitarian response station” in China, and assistance to the African continent to strengthen its preparedness for the disease.

This promise is important amid fears that Africa, with its congested cities and weak health systems, would be at great risk of high transmission rates.

China’s generosity is also synchronized with its bold efforts to attract African countries with billions in loans through its controversial Belt and Road Initiative.

As for the United States, their presence at WHA was more than a cameo for Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar. In a brief statement, he noted WHO’s failure in its response to the pandemic, saying the organization must “become much more transparent and much more accountable.”

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 the funds in case “he does not commit to substantial substantial improvements in the next 30 days.”

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

But symbolically or not, the contribution remains vital to the organization, which has a budget of $ 2.3 billion that its CEO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has 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 major implication for the delivery of health services to some of the world’s most vulnerable people” .

It remains to be seen whether the WHO, which struggled with a host of technical problems during the 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 UN agencies, such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHCR), and from agreements as important as the Paris Climate Agreement. The latest threat to end America’s participation in the WHO appears to be an attempt to divert attention from its own incompetence in response to the covid-19 outbreak which, as of this writing, has already infected more than 1.5 million Americans and has killed more than 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 evolve, alliances change, and politicians and professionals continue.

It is a sentiment shared by Ambassador Alexander Vershbow, who served as the United States’ envoy to South Korea, Russia, and NATO and is the former NATO Under Secretary General. He told me: “Even if Democrats retake the White House, it will take a long time to rebuild the habits of the American leadership and rebuild the confidence of our traditional allies, lost to the coronavirus and the withdrawal of the WHO.

“I think the attitudes that have been reflected now in this policy of abdicating leadership have deep roots in some parts of the American political body and it will not be easy, even with a change of administration, to return to the way things were before” Vershbow said.

Global competition for appeals against covid-19

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

The effort, dubbed “Operation Warp Speed,” could cost the US government. hundreds of millions of dollars, according to a senior administration official. The official indicated that it was a financial risk if the doses were not effective, but it was worth it.

However, even if the United States-led effort succeeds, the collateral cost could not only be a stronger China but also a decline in the United States’ international stature and a regrettable loss of goodwill from other countries and multilateral agencies during the next pandemic or global crisis.