China Wins: Why Trump’s WHO Funding Cut Is a Gift to Beijing

“If we cede the playing field, obviously China is going to fill in that space”

(Time) – When he accused the World Health Organization (WHO) of going soft on China over the COVID-19 pandemic and suspended U.S. payments to the agency, President Donald Trump put the strategic question of the century on the table. What’s the best way to win the global competition with Beijing: America First confrontation or multinational cooperation? The fight over the WHO shows why the right answer is a matter of life and death for hundreds of millions of people.

Trump and his allies say that the Geneva-based WHO botched the global pandemic response by praising Beijing’s handling of the crisis, parroting its denial of the COVID-19 threat, and opposing travel restrictions to and from the country. “The WHO willingly took China’s assurances to face value,” Trump said Tuesday as he announced the aid suspension at the White House. “Reliance on China’s disclosures likely caused a 20-fold increase in cases worldwide,” he said.

Even some of the President’s critics agree that the WHO was too deferential to China at the start of the crisis. But they say undermining the agency is self-defeating. Since WWII, the U.S. and liberal democracies have fought to define the missions and standards of international bodies like the WHO. Cutting funding to the agency in the middle of a global pandemic, the critics say, just guarantees more, not less, sway by China at a time when the country is seeking to expand its influence over international bodies. “If we cede the playing field, obviously China is going to fill in that space,” says Amb. Joseph DeTrani, former CIA director of East Asia Operations. “They are doing that as we speak.”

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