U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar, at the virtual meeting of the World Health Assembly (WHA) on May 18, denounced an “apparent attempt to conceal this outbreak by at least one member state,” without directly naming China. The WHA is the WHO’s decision-making body.
He also called out the WHO’s complicity in the virus’s spread, by repeating Chinese talking points.
“We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control,” Azar said. “There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives.”
Trump, told reporters later on Monday, that he chose not to speak at the meeting, saying that the WHO had done “a very sad job” in handling the crisis, adding that it was “a puppet of China.”
Earlier in the meeting, WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus vowed to begin an “independent evaluation” into how the organization responded to the outbreak “at the earliest appropriate moment.”
Chinese leader Xi Jinping, in a video speech at the opening of the meeting, said the Chinese regime would support a “comprehensive review” of the global response to the pandemic, provided it was led by the WHO.
Azar said the United States supports “an independent review of every aspect of WHO’s response” and China’s conduct also should be “on the table” for review.
Separate from talks of the independent review, a resolution drafted by the European Union that calls for an independent evaluation of the WHO’s performance appeared to have won consensus backing among the WHO’s 194 states. It was expected to be debated and adopted on May 19. The draft motion doesn’t specifically refer to China or Wuhan, the outbreak epicenter, but does call on the body to work with the World Organization for Animal Health to investigate the source of the virus, according to Australian media outlet ABC.
Xi, in his remarks, sought to emphasize the regime’s efforts in combating the pandemic, and pledged $2 billion to the United Nations to help the global response. He also defended the regime’s handling of the outbreak, saying, “All along, we have acted with openness and transparency and responsibility.”
Speaking hours after Xi, Azar said the United States had allocated $9 billion to virus containment efforts around the world. The United States, WHO’s largest contributor, last month halted funds to the WHO pending a review, slamming the body as being too deferential to Beijing.
Beijing’s pledged contribution forms part of its campaign “to shift the narrative from China being the source of the novel coronavirus towards leading global assistance,” I-wei Jennifer Chang, research fellow at Washington-based think tank Global Taiwan Institute told The Epoch Times in an email.
“China seeks to play a key role in facilitating and coordinating global responses to the pandemic, one-upping Washington on the most pressing global governance issue at the present time,” Chang said.
The body has come under intense scrutiny for repeating the Chinese regime’s official statements that there was little or no risk of human-to-human transmission of the virus during the early stages of the outbreak in China. Mounting evidence, including from leaked internal documents, however, shows that the regime knew about the outbreak’s severity and hid it from the public.
Top WHO officials have also repeatedly praised Chinese officials and claimed China’s response set an example for other countries to follow.
Ghebreyesus defended the body’s response, saying, “We sounded the alarm early, and we sounded it often.”
Earlier on May 18, the WHO’s seven-member internal oversight body published a report examining the group’s response to COVID-19, saying the WHO “demonstrated leadership” in handling the pandemic between January and April.
“Initial information on case fatality rate, severity, and transmissibility furnished by China in early January reflected an incomplete picture of the virus, but were updated by the WHO Secretariat following a country office mission to Wuhan from 20 to 21 January,” it said.
“An imperfect and evolving understanding is not unusual during the early phase of a novel disease emergence.”
Committee members said an independent assessment of WHO’s performance “may be useful” but warned that conducting a review “during the heat of the response, even in a limited manner, could disrupt WHO’s ability to respond effectively.”
Chang said the regime is likely to “reject, or seek to complicate, a potential WHO investigation into the virus origins in order to deflect global criticism over the pandemic’s outbreak within its borders.”
At the start of the WHA meeting, member states unanimously agreed to defer a decision on granting observer status to Taiwan until later this year to avoid diverting attention from the pandemic.
The United States, along with a group of countries, started a campaign ahead of the meeting to push for the self-ruled island’s inclusion, saying its exclusion hampered global efforts to fight the disease. The Chinese regime, which views Taiwan as part of its territory, has blocked the island’s participation in the WHA since President Tsai Ing-wen was elected in Taiwan in 2016.
“WHO barred Taiwan from participation in 2016, just a few months after Taiwan’s free and fair elections,” Azar said at the meeting. “The 23 million Taiwanese people should never be sacrificed to send a political message.”
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a statement on May 18, said Ghebreyesus “had every legal power and precedent” to include Taiwan in the conference.
“Yet, he instead chose not to invite Taiwan, under pressure from the People’s Republic of China,” he said.
“The director-general’s lack of independence deprives the Assembly of Taiwan’s renowned scientific expertise on pandemic disease, and further damages the WHO’s credibility and effectiveness at a time when the world needs it the most.”
Reuters and Zachary Steiber contributed to this report.