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WHO aid is latest U.S.-China battleground

China raised its donations for the WHO's pandemic efforts to US$50 million a week after U.S. President Donald Trump halted the U.N. agency's U.S. funding.

GENEVA (AN) — China raised its donations for World Health Organization efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic to US$50 million on Thursday, just a week after U.S. President Donald Trump halted U.S. funding to the U.N. health agency.The decision to donate another US$30 million to WHO on top of a US$20 million donation last month showcased China's apparent use of international organizations such as the United Nations and its affiliate agencies as an emerging battleground for strategic rivalry to the United States.

It also coincided with — and could be interpreted as an attempt to deflect — other nations' efforts to mount an international inquiry into the Chinese origins of the virus. But as the Trump administration has withdrawn from longstanding Western-led multilateral institutions and treaties, and launched a U.S.-China trade war, Beijing has sensed opportunity to attempt to fill a vacuum in global leadership.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang, in announcing the latest donation, pointedly sought to prop up the U.N. health agency's director-general, Ethiopian politician and health expert Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, against Trump's vociferous attacks on WHO's credibility.

Since the coronavirus outbreak was first detected in Wuhan, China late last year, WHO under Tedros' leadership "has been actively fulfilling its duties and upholding an objective, scientific and impartial stance. It has played an important role in helping relevant countries strengthen their pandemic response and promoting international cooperation to tackle the pandemic," Geng told a regular press conference in Beijing.

"As the global fight against the pandemic enters a crucial stage, supporting the WHO is defending the ideals and principles of multilateralism and upholding the status and authority of the United Nations," he said. "The virus is the common enemy of mankind. Solidarity is the only weapon for the international community to defeat it."

Geng added that his nation's donations further "demonstrate the Chinese government and people's support for and trust in the WHO. It is also our way of contributing to the cause of global public health and the joint pandemic response."

Scapegoating China

Trump's efforts to boost his polling numbers among Republican voters focus largely on attacking scapegoats such as international organizations, news media, Democrats — and China. The U.S. president and his allies in Congress and Fox News have been campaigning against Beijing, issuing allegations for Trump to claim as reasons for more investigation.

World leaders and public health authorities last week denounced Trump’s decision to halt funding for WHO just as it coordinates global efforts against the COVID-19 pandemic.At a White House press briefing, Trump said he was halting all further payments to WHO while his administration spends between 60 to 90 days reviewing the U.N. health agency’s role in “severely mismanaging and covering up the spread of the coronavirus.”

Trump said he was cutting off U.S. payments to WHO for failing to do enough to stop the virus from spreading when it was first detected in China. He has repeatedly insisted on calling COVID-19 the “Chinese virus” to emphasize its origin.

“The WHO failed in its basic duty and must be held accountable,” Trump said. “This is an evaluation period, but in the meantime, we’re putting a hold on all funds going to World Health."

The Trump administration's criticism hinges on allegations that WHO withheld information in January about what was going on in China that could have helped U.S. officials better respond. However, American researchers posted at the U.N. health agency's headquarters in Geneva were relaying real-time information about China back to U.S. officials in January, The Washington Post reported on Sunday.

WHO relies mainly on contributions from 194 member nations and private organizations. About 20% of its budget comes from member nations’ mandatory dues; the rest comes from voluntary donations from other international organizations and philanthropic foundations, along with private sector and partner donations.

The United States, United Kingdom, and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are the top supporters. The United States contributes US$450 million a year — including US$115 million in mandatory dues — towards WHO’s more than US$4 billion budget, according to WHO budget figures. China contributes US$86 million a year, including US$57 million in mandatory dues.

The East-West clash likely will come further into focus next month at the World Health Assembly, WHO's decision-making body, where Australia is expected to seek an international inquiry into Chinese origins of the virus and reported efforts to downplay or cover it up. China has strongly opposed such an effort.

Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison is asking the Trump administration along with leaders in France and Germany to push for WHO's technical advisers and inspectors to gain powers to immediately enter any country where a significant virus outbreak is detected.

He said on Twitter that he spoke on Tuesday with Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel about "the need for greater international cooperation in response to pandemics, including a vaccine, and as we recover from this global crisis."