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23rd Oct 2020

Coronavirus

EU scolds Trump on his WHO 'finger-pointing'

  • With the November election looming, US president Donald Trump ratcheted up his attacks on the Geneva-based WHO (Photo: Reuters)

US president Donald Trump's threat to permanently cut off World Health Organisation (WHO) funding was met with disdain by the European Commission.

"This is the time for solidarity, it is not the time for finger pointing or undermining multilateral cooperation," a European Commission spokesperson told reporters on Tuesday (19 May).

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The US provided some €818m to the WHO between 2018 and 2019, compared to China's €78m over the same period.

The comments follow the latest move by the sitting US president to cast the WHO as a corrupted vassal of the Chinese government.

Trump has consistently downplayed the pandemic and at one point earlier this year praised the Chinese premier for how it handled the contagion.

But his mood on China has shifted ahead of a presidential election and amid a growing outbreak of the virus in the United States, which now has in absolute terms more known cases and deaths than anywhere else.

A spiralling US economy battered by a latest 14.7 percent unemployment rate may have also factored into Trump's latest threat.

At the same time, the WHO itself has been accused of acting too slow to the threat posed by the outbreak, which was first announced end of last year in the Chinese mega-city of Wuhan.

The scientific consensus traces its origins to a wet-market in Wuhan, while conspiracy theories - amplified by social media networks like Facebook and Trump's own Twitter feed - direct outrage elsewhere.

China's assertive "One-China policy" over Taiwan complicates the narrative of WHO's independence.

China considers Taiwan as part of its territory. Beijing's heavy lobbying excluded Taiwan from participating in the World Health Assembly, an annual decision-making meeting of the WHO.

In March, the former assistant director-general at the WHO appeared to disconnect a video-conference interview by a journalist when asked whether Taiwan should rejoin the WHO.

Over 100 MEPs and MPs from different countries and political groups have since drafted a letter demanding Taiwan be allowed observer status at the next World Health Assembly taking place on 19 and 20 May.

"Furthermore, we request that the WHO facilitate appropriate and feasible arrangements for Taiwan to participate in all WHO meetings, mechanisms and activities," notes the letter.

EU says 'no' to Taiwan

Although Australia, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and the UK have all supported Taiwan's participation at the assembly, the European Commission - effectively - said no.

When pressed on whether it would recommend an 'observer status' for Taiwan, the commission described the European Union policy as one that is aligned with the One-China policy.

"The European Union promotes practical solutions regarding Taiwan's participation in international frameworks, wherever this is consistent with the European Union's policy which is 'one China's policy' and the EU's policy objective and this applies to the WHO," said a European Commission spokesperson.

She then added that the EU would make efforts to include Taiwan in some meetings at the assembly, if deemed as "an added value."

Meanwhile, a resolution proposed by the EU was adopted on Tuesday by the World Health Assembly.

Backed by a consensus, the resolution calls for an evaluation of the international response to the pandemic and seeks to identify the origins of the virus and how it spreads to humans.

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