On G7 Backing World Health Organization: Pandemic Politics

Updated: May 16

Vasu Sharma

Research Intern

Internationalism.

Introduction

Donald Trump, President of the United States has been quite vocal in his criticism towards China and the World Health Organization (WHO). Trump Administration has criticised China for setting COVID 19 out loose and WHO for mishandling the pandemic under influence of China. On March 16, when Mr Trump wanted to declare ‘COVID 19’ as ‘Wuhan Virus’ during a G-7 communique, other members of the group refused to do so. Similarly, on April 16th members of Group of Seven, refused to suspend their funding to WHO, a measure which POTUS (President of The United States) was quite vocal about and has executed as well. Remaining members of G-7 openly backed WHO pointing out international co-operation needed to combat COVID – 19.

China – WHO relations

The war of words during the Pandemic Politics is an example of how the legitimacy of International Bodies are being questioned in World Disorder (the first challenge in global governance). The China – WHO relation is a visible precedent behind Trump’s aggression over the above-mentioned events. WHO is been openly criticised for mishandling the situation and not being able to act as a global health leader during a situation like this? If Wuhan was the epicentre for the outbreak of the virus, WHO has been the epicentre of criticisms for not acting decisively over the situation and putting the global health at stake.

The China – WHO relation dates back to 2017, with the appointment of Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus as Director-General of WHO. China had been an important ally of Dr Tedros during his election in 2017. In January 2020, he was vocal about praising China for setting new standards for outbreak control and the Chinese leadership providing with information to WHO and other countries. Such advocacy by Director-General of WHO comes when the Chinese Government was censoring the flow of information regarding outbreak and arresting individuals who were vocal about it. Nevertheless, Dr Tedros criticized other countries over their response to the outbreak.

The outbreak was declared as ‘Public Health Emergency of International Concern’ by WHO on January 30 and as ‘Pandemic’ on March 11, due to rapid increase in the number of cases outside China. Critiques of WHO criticise this delay in declaring the pandemic. China’s influence can be observed through two variables:

  • The stand of WHO on Taiwan

  • Rise of contributions to WHO from China

Hence credibility of International Organizations can be seen doubtfully through their source of funding,


Disarrays in G-7

Since Trump Administration has taken charge of Capitol Hill in Washington, there have been certain disarrays in the Trans-Atlantic relations. With differences between the US and its European allies, during the 2017 NATO summit (Brussels), Trump was vocal about differences between Germany regarding the increasing trade surplus (of Germany) and threatening to limit the automobile imports from Germany. Similarly, in 2018, there was a conflict between the US and Canada was visible at the then G-7 summit, the disagreement due to tariffs on steel and aluminium imports by the US was lashed out at host Canada. POTUS then took twitter to insult his Canadian counterpart. Since the victory of Trump, he has been an advocate of readmission of Russia in G-7 (which was excluded in 2015, due to invasion of Crimea).

Above events must be duly noted because since 2016 the cracks between G-7 and conflicts in trade and tariffs with its strongest allies, US does hint the unilateralism it wants to advocate. The disarrays since 2017, maybe the reason for G-7 members to back WHO and refusing to suspend its funding to WHO, as motivated and threatened by White House. The refusal of other G-7 members indicates two important realities:

The EU Factor

European Union has been a non-enumerated member of G-7 since 1981. European Union, since its inception, has not been able to fulfil the primary and core objectives for which it was formed. Europe is no longer at the forefront of world politics. Major turbulences in Union like Brexit, the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2015 and Migration crisis have led to a weakening of organization.

However, after the G-7 meet on April 16th, steps and decision are taken by measures taken by the European Union signify its principle and value of multilateralism and co-operation. Post summit, EU declared an online pledging conference for the world leaders to enhance the preparedness and provide adequate funding to multiply the pace of development of a vaccine for the virus. EU has even focused on lending out help to African countries as well. European Union does believe in collective responsibility, which through this decision is seen effectively. However, it is opaque as of now, whether the EU Conference will work as an ally to the WHO or not. But it is trying to fill the gap made by actions of the US.

The faith of other G-7 countries in WHO

The biggest contributor to the budget of WHO, United States after freezing the funding on April 15 is regarded as a problematic decision by the US. Irrespective of claims and criticisms by the US, other G-7 nations like Italy, Japan, United Kingdom, France, Germany and Canada have chosen to back WHO thus not freezing their funding to the body. This move precisely signifies that, instead of the inability of WHO to act decisively even during the outbreak of Ebola in Dominic Republic of Congo in 2018 and in Sierra Leone in 2014, many nations do believe that international leadership and co-operation will be vital to combating the pandemic.

Conclusions

The whole fiasco over freezing funding of WHO by the US will be an important landmark in Pandemic Politics. 15% of WHO funding was from the US. Such a step by the US implies certain opaque indications. First being, does Capitol Hill aim to form a new international body to replace WHO, the same demand made by US diplomats post Ebola outbreak in 2015 (however the decision was not approved the then President).

During the virtual meet, UK demanded a review to be done of whole mishandling by WHO. However, the stand contradicts itself amidst the UK refusing to cut down the funding. Even if a review would be conducted, major questions would be raised on a large amount of funding to WHO by organizations. Such donors might affect the functioning of a body. Hence a check on the funding of such an international body must be done. The stand of other G-7 nations does imply their foresightedness during the situation. Their arrogant US counterpart and series of contradictions with the US for past two/three years might result in them isolating the US.

WHO has been under criticism for past four/five years, undoubtedly, its indecisive nature has resulted into harsh consequences. Mishandling of WHO must be checked and reforms in the mechanism, governance, decision making and source of funds is mandatory post-pandemic.


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