USAID’s Bonnie Glick on China’s Debt-Trap Diplomacy and Trump’s Ultimatum to the WHO

May 20, 2020 Updated: May 27, 2020

How is the Chinese Communist Party exploiting poor, but resource-rich or strategically situated countries using debt-trap diplomacy?

What role is the US playing in the global response to coronavirus?

And how do authoritarian regimes like China, have an outsized influence in international organizations like the WHO and the UN Human Rights Council?

In this episode, we sit down with Bonnie Glick, the Deputy Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID). She has worked in the foreign service at the State Department, in the private sector at IBM, and in the world of development non-profits as a Senior Vice President at Meridian International Center.

This is American Thought Leaders 🇺🇸, and I’m Jan Jekielek.

Jan Jekielek: Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick, such a pleasure to have you on American Thought Leaders.

Bonnie Glick: Jan, it’s an absolute pleasure to be here with you and to have an interesting conversation.

Mr. Jekielek: I’m really looking forward to that. USAID is the main agency in the U.S. government that’s charged with getting aid out to countries that are dealing with coronavirus, a very big deal right now, obviously. Last I checked, I think Secretary Pompeo had said that $900 million had been committed. It’s been a little time since that. I’m wondering if you could update us on that commitment and what that’s looking like.

Ms. Glick: Sure. You’re absolutely right in terms of what the role of USAID is currently in this coronavirus environment that we’re in, which is such a critical testing moment for the world. So far to date, the United States has allocated $900 million to specific efforts to address coronavirus around the world; right now to over 120 different countries. We have had appropriated by Congress a little over $2 billion so far, and right now what we’re doing is planning out the cycles for the disbursement of that funding to countries that are, like the United States, finding themselves struggling with the way to address the coronavirus. So we’re at around $900 million to date with an expectation that we’ll be allocating another billion dollars or more moving forward.

Mr. Jekielek: This is very interesting … and I’ve been hearing this from our audiences on both sides of the spectrum. On one hand, we have people that are saying, “Oh, the U.S. is stepping out of the international limelight,” or “[The U.S. is] not doing nearly enough to help.” On the other hand, you have people that are saying, “My goodness, $2 billion at a time when we’re doing trillions of dollars of stimulus. That’s crazy.” I’m wondering if you could just offer: What is the philosophy, and how is this money being used exactly?

Ms. Glick: It’s a great question, and it is a struggle for sure. One of the things that we think about is we’re looking at trillions of dollars of deficit in the United States. Why are we investing internationally in the response to coronavirus? Well, the virus doesn’t know any boundaries. So we won’t be safe here if we aren’t investing in our approach to the virus internationally. And so, $2 billion compared with the trillions of dollars of investment that we’re making as a nation into our own response is not, in the long run, a huge investment. That said, to Americans, American citizens, $2 billion is a lot of money.

So what are we doing with that investment? We’re working closely with countries to help them shore up their abilities to respond when coronavirus hits their shores. So one of the things that we saw early on was that—this virus, the outbreak of which originated, we know, in Wuhan, China—the virus quickly spread, and the spread was to places that we would traditionally refer to as developed countries, places like Italy which was hit terribly hard in the early days of the virus. But the virus didn’t spread, as far as we can tell, immediately into developing countries. Why is that? Well, there are a number of different theories. I am not a physician, I’m not an epidemiologist, but we’re looking at the patterns of the spread of the virus and predicting that it will hit in the southern hemisphere in the coming weeks. And when it hits, we want to make sure that countries in Africa, in Latin America and Southeast Asia are prepared to respond in advance of that arrival to their shores. We’re helping shore up health systems.

In a number of cases, President Trump has been speaking with world leaders about what their needs are and he’s talking to them about the incredible effort we’ve made in the United States to ramp up our manufacturing capability of things like ventilators, really sophisticated machines that are providing life-saving assistance to people in the United States, and his willingness to share that American production once we’ve satisfied our needs here domestically; to share that American manufacturing, American ingenuity, with countries around the world which is a tremendous testament to American goodwill, as well as our ability as a nation to rally the manufacturing sector. So we’re helping because we recognize that a virus knows no boundaries. We won’t be safe here if people around the world aren’t safe in their homes.

Mr. Jekielek: Before I ask a bit more down that vein of the philosophical approach [on] how you’re doing this, I was just reading that Nigeria, for example, is being hit hard now. So how is the US effort looking in that country?

Ms. Glick: So in countries like Nigeria where we have a long-standing presence as we do in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, in the area of public health and health delivery, we’re working with the Nigerians to leverage off of the work that we’ve done historically over the last 20-plus years. One of the things that the United States has done is we’ve invested in health care systems across the world, investing over $140 billion in global health programs over the last 20 years. That’s $140 billion—with a “B”.

What has that money gone toward? Well, it’s a great question and that money has gone toward things like a program set up by President George W. Bush called the “United States President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief.” You and I will remember although some very young people won’t remember that in the 1980s, AIDS and HIV were ravaging the African continent simultaneously while we were being hit hard here in the United States. American pharmacology companies developed antiretrovirals in order to treat people in the United States who were HIV positive, to allow them to live with HIV. President Bush—recognizing again that if the disease is elsewhere, it will come to the United States—initiated this “U.S. President’s Emergency Plan For AIDS Relief”, PEPFAR, which set up health programming systems across Sub-Saharan Africa, Asia, Latin America and Europe in order to deliver life-saving antiretrovirals to people so that they too could live with HIV. HIV, you will recall, is a virus, and it’s a virus that we acted on very quickly in the United States. We have saved millions and millions of lives, and we have allowed people in countries around the world to live productively albeit while being HIV-positive.

So we’re leveraging in Nigeria, off of that great work; off of the great work of the President’s Malaria Initiative which was designed and set up platforms to deliver bed nets and life-saving antimalarial treatments to people all across Africa. And so in a country like Nigeria which has the largest population in Sub-Saharan Africa, we’re legitimately and genuinely concerned about the population there and its ability to respond to the coronavirus, and we’ve built up this platform off of which we can leverage the delivery of products and services for the coronavirus response.

Mr. Jekielek: There’s something that’s been striking me and I’ve been thinking a lot about this because at The Epoch Times, we cover China extensively as you’re well aware, and that is the distinction between how the U.S. approaches aid and how China under the Chinese Communist Party approaches aid. And I’m wondering if you could actually speak to that. … What is the idea in terms of providing aid in general to countries from the U.S. perspective?

Ms. Glick: So in general, our goal as it relates to foreign assistance, is ultimately to end the need for its existence. And there’s only one way that we can work to end the need for foreign assistance and that is to work with countries as they travel along their own journeys towards self-reliance. We believe fundamentally in this philosophy that we will partner with countries to help them get to the point where they are self reliant, no longer dependent on foreign assistance, and can one day become donors themselves.

Two great examples of countries who have traveled along that journey towards self-reliance with the United States are Israel and South Korea. Israel used to be one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance, and it is now a donor country with whom we partner, particularly in Africa, in areas of things like agriculture, water, disease eradication. South Korea, a country which received foreign assistance from the United States after the Korean War, now receives American imports each year in a dollar amount that is more than all of the foreign assistance we ever provided to South Korea. That is quite a tremendous journey that we took with countries that are now among our strongest allies in the world.

But you asked about China, Jan, and I’m happy to talk about that and the Chinese approach to development which is very different from a journey to self-reliance. The Chinese version of foreign assistance is one of dependence—one of perpetual dependence on the People’s Republic of China. So what does this mean? This means that China, which now calls itself a “donor,” is entering into markets in developing countries, starting with countries that are really rich in natural resources. The Chinese come and they say, “Hey, Development Minister in country X, Y or Z, you look like you could use some help building up your port facilities. We think that your port should be financed by Chinese development funding, and here’s a contract for you. It’s already ready for you, and you don’t need to read all of the fine print. Just sign on the dotted line. And lo and behold, you will have a world-class port that will see 10,000 port calls each year, and your country will prosper as a result.”

Well, this is actually a real live example of what happened in Sri Lanka. In Sri Lanka, the government signed on the dotted line without reading all of the fine print, and the fine print indicated that if Sri Lanka was not able to pay the debt servicing the loan that it took out from the People’s Republic of China to build that port, that world-class port, the port would be turned over on a 99-year concessionary lease to the People’s Republic of China. And it’s, oh, by the way, strategically situated for defense maneuvers as well. So how did this happen and what does it mean to Sri Lanka? Well, Sri Lanka bought the story that they would have 10,000 port calls a year. In the first year of operation, there were 37, and Sri Lanka quickly was unable to pay its debt servicing to the PRC. And so when it became clear that Sri Lanka would not be able to to pay that debt servicing, China swooped in and has taken a 99-year concessionary lease possession of Sri Lanka’s largest world-class port. That was a recipe for disaster for the Sri Lankan shipping industry. We’ve seen it [in] other places where in the early days of Chinese foreign assistance, so-called “foreign assistance,” it really was focused on strategic wins for China.

The same thing happened in the tiny East African country of Djibouti which also had a concessionary port built by the People’s Republic of China, strategically located right on the entry to the Red Sea, and where the United States has strong defense interests. And Djibouti defaulted on its loan and China ultimately controls operations in the port in Djibouti.

So what we saw early on when Hong Kong, for example, reverted to the People’s Republic of China in 1997, and we thought that we would see an opening of China to the West based on Hong Kong special status. We’ve seen how that has been, to use the term of the day, unmasked as a falsehood.

And critically important to developing countries is for them to be aware of the potential danger that’s involved in engaging in financing programs and projects with only Chinese funding.

The United States and Western donors would have done similar programs in projects. We have an amazing U.S. agency called the Millennium Challenge Corporation, also established under George W. Bush, which was really important in helping developing countries build up their critical infrastructure with loans and grants from the United States. In order to be eligible for those, countries had to meet certain democracy and transparency requirements—and highly, highly, highly selective. And by the way, no strings [are] attached when grants are disbursed to countries who have qualified for Millennium Challenge Corporation grants, and the bonds that are built between those countries and the United States are tremendously strong as a result.

Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. Talking about these ports, we’re talking about something more than just aid. These are some serious national security implications.

Ms. Glick: Yes. You’re absolutely right. Ports have dual use in almost every country—for civilian use as well as for military use. And the way China has mapped out the globe, it has been very strategically looking at the most valuable ports first and approaching those countries accordingly.

Mr. Jekielek: This is part of the Belt and Road Initiative essentially, right?

Ms. Glick: That’s correct. China’s One Belt One Road policy, we jokingly refer to as the “One belt, one road, one-way trip to insoluble debt.” And it’s something that countries will be struggling with in terms of their past decision making, but we talked to them about it and we’ve talked about it in multilateral lending institutions as well. So you have countries that are now really struggling with unsustainable debt to China and the World Bank President David Malpass actually announced that we would all, as multilateral bank donors, be looking at ways to forgive debt in light of coronavirus and that is something that will be very, very interesting to watch China respond to. Initial Chinese responses have been, “Sure! We should all talk about debt forgiveness,” and then simultaneously they started putting all kinds of conditions on what type of debt would be considered for debt forgiveness, carefully trying to thread the needle to keep bilateral debt owed to the People’s Republic of China off the table in terms of those considerations.

Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating. Something that just struck me is you were talking about these countries that have worked with the US on using the Millennium Fund. And right now, we’re talking a lot in a different vein about reshoring some U.S. supply chain, some U.S. manufacturing, back to the U.S. Presumably that could also be reshored to countries with these strong relationships.

Ms. Glick: That’s 100-percent true. And while so much of our conversation is about onshoring and that is so important for America’s economic recovery, one of the huge things that we’ve seen as a tremendous point of failure is the global supply chain. … We were dependent on the People’s Republic of China in the case of coronavirus reagents that we might need for developing pharmacological solutions, but even more so we were dependent on the global expectation that China would be transparent about information, as well as about distribution worldwide of things that would be necessary to treat coronavirus—things like PPE as we’ve all talked about.

The idea behind onshoring as much as possible is a conversation that has probably been long in coming in the United States, rebuilding our manufacturing capacity, our distribution capacity, here at home. But it’s also important to think about nearshoring, closer to our shores, and what I like to call, allied-shoring. Onshoring, nearshoring and allied-shoring are all now on the table for conversations in a way that they weren’t before because the world sort of accepted that China was the global distribution point for so much. And seeing now the impact of that, we’re reevaluating those decisions, and we’re working very closely with American business leaders to see in what ways we can incentivize business to return to American shores, or at a minimum, to partner with countries around the world who are our allies to onshore in their own countries; some of their areas of key strength. So onshoring, nearshoring and allied-shoring, I believe are the way that we have to move forward.

Mr. Jekielek: Fascinating, and presumably there’s multiple agencies here working together with you on this side of things, right?

Ms. Glick: Yes, … of course the Department of Commerce is key in this, but even more important than agencies is working with the private sector to ensure that our great American companies are able to undertake what we’re asking them to do, and to do it successfully, which also includes then creating jobs or bringing back laid off workers to their manufacturing line so that we can wave the flag, and have the Made in America moniker stick and be critically important for a symbol of excellence, transparency, and the kindness of the American spirit.

Mr. Jekielek: Deputy Administrator Glick, before I forget, the U.S. has actually been donating things like PPEs, ventilators, masks and things like that. I just don’t think that’s very generally known. I’m wondering if you could speak to that a bit, please?

Ms. Glick: Sure. In the early stages of coronavirus, we did not know that it would hit our shores. And so in Asia, when it became clear that the outbreak that originated in Wuhan was going to spread regionally, we received a number of requests from Asian governments for help with the provision of PPE, personal protective equipment, and we rallied to those cries quickly and delivered PPE to a number of Asian countries. When we realized that the virus was going to spread to the United States, President Trump quickly shut down flights from China, and we started thinking as what we refer to as the interagency, the cross-US government conversations about PPE, and what it might mean, and how we need it here in the United States for our doctors and nurses, as well as for the people who are stocking grocery shelves, and doing deliveries and trucks. So we had to stop shipping personal protective equipment, things like gowns and masks, internationally. But much as we’ve seen here in the United States, there’s a burgeoning industry around the world of manufacturing locally, gowns, and masks, and gloves, and things like that, that are useful, critical really, for healthcare delivery.

In terms of ventilators, that’s a category that’s quite different from PPE. Ventilators are highly technical machines, technologically advanced, that we use here in the United States, in hospital settings; hospital environments. Many countries around the world do not have the training and the capacity to use American-made ventilators. And so President Trump in his conversations with dozens of world leaders has sussed out if there is a need as well as capacity for receiving American-made ventilators for shipment. So far, we have shipped ventilators and they have arrived in South Africa. South Africa has a large number of hospitals in large cities that have trained physicians and technicians who can use American-made ventilators. We’ll be sending them to a number of different countries around the world in the coming days and weeks in order to provide that life-saving assistance. The component to that, the additive piece that our physicians at USAID, as well as physicians around the United States are consulting with us about, is the use [of] not just the ventilators, which are the later, almost last stages of COVID-19 treatment, but also shipping oxygen. Commercial vendors in the United States ship oxygen around the world and other gases on a regular basis. And we know that oxygen will save even more lives than ventilators. More people will have access to it. So we’re looking not just at shipping ventilators but also oxygen, training people in the use of these things, so that they can be deployed rapidly in hospital settings around the world.

Mr. Jekielek: Deputy Administrator Glick, as you’re describing all this, I’m thinking back to how the U.S. is typically portrayed, and I think there is truth to this as stepping away from these multilateral relationships that it has in the world, and engaging less in the world; becoming more isolationist. What you’re describing makes me think in the opposite direction. I want to give you an opportunity just to talk about how that is changing.

Ms. Glick: It’s such a good and incredibly timely question, Jan. The United States and the Trump administration have come under a lot of criticism for the approach that the administration has taken vis à vis the World Health Organization. As we all saw from the President’s letter to the head of WHO, Dr. Tedros, that was just released, it is clear that the United States took a very thoughtful approach to how it can and how it really should engage with the World Health Organization, which is an example of a UN agency. The president was very clear when he first announced that we were going to be freezing our funding to the World Health Organization as it related to the COVID-19 response, pending a review of the actions that were taken by the World Health Organization from the time that it became clear that there was an outbreak that was originating in Wuhan, China. And the President laid out in very clear terms, the timeline of activity, and more significantly, lack of activity by the World Health Organization in terms of responding to the world in what became this global pandemic, at a cost, no doubt, of hundreds of billions of dollars and more significantly, thousands and thousands of lives. So President Trump has laid out a very clear requirement that the WHO become more transparent in its dealings with the world community.

And from our perspective at the US Agency for International Development, this is a long time coming, and we’re very glad that this review was done. In fact, during the course of the Ebola outbreak in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, we were noticing things that gave us pause in terms of the way the World Health Organization was responding to that incident, the disease outbreak, which the World Health Organization was a little bit slow in calling a “public health emergency of international concern.” That’s a technical term of the WHO which indicates that the disease had the capability and indeed had crossed international borders, and was in danger of becoming a far graver international disease outbreak. We saw it; we were concerned. We were concerned about some of the actions WHO had taken, but when we thought about calling WHO out for what we perceived to be flaws in its activities, we thought, “Well, we’re in the middle of a public health emergency of international concern. Now is not the right time to call out WHO. Let’s wait for this to recede.” Then, before the Ebola crisis had a chance to recede, we were hit with a global pandemic.

Well, WHO … relative to the Ebola situation, more expeditiously called this a “public health emergency of international concern.” But it still took its time in reaching that point and gave the Chinese government, the PRC, an opportunity to do terrible things, like destroy samples, so that the world could not get a handle on what the virology of this disease actually was in a timely manner—again, at the cost of hundreds of billions of dollars and thousands of people’s lives needlessly wasted. So President Trump made that call.

At the same time, we encouraged the head of WHO to invite Taiwan to observer status at the World Health Assembly. This is something that doesn’t have to go through the UN, it doesn’t have to be approved by UN member states, it’s something that the head of WHO has the authority, and in fact, prior heads of WHO have exercised that authority to invite Taiwan as an observer to the World Health Assembly. Dr. Tedros opted not to do that, so again exemplifying the outsized control that the PRC has over the operations, day-to-day and policy-wise, of the World Health Organization.

President Trump’s call for reform is so key at this moment. Yes, we’re in the middle of a global pandemic and everybody is nervous about where COVID-19 is going to go next, and who will be adversely impacted. We know that we in the United States have been tremendously impacted. I would argue that now is the perfect time for us to have called for the review of WHO, and its practices in the course of this coronavirus outbreak. It is the perfect time because we have captured the world’s attention and in so doing, we are shining light onto the way that WHO as an international organization should operate.

In no way is the United States withdrawing from its role as the leader of the free world and as the leader of the international community. In fact, by calling for this review, we are exercising that leadership, and it is clear to me that there will be other countries who come along and say, “Thank you, United States, for shining the light on what were practices that were in dire need of reform.”

And President Trump laid down the gauntlet and he said, I expect to see significant reform in the World Health Organization or my temporary suspension of U.S. dollars going into WHO will become a permanent decision, and the United States will consider withdrawing its membership from WHO. It’s a very clear message—doesn’t get any clearer than that—that the WHO is in need of reform, the United States expects to see that reform in short order, and we look forward to seeing the results of that.

Mr. Jekielek: Deputy Administrator Glick, are you suggesting that this is the general approach that the USAID is taking; just reviewing the relationships?

Ms. Glick: It’s something that happens on a not irregular basis, that we look at the role that the United States plays, we look at the roles of other international actors in international organizations, it is certainly a rare thing that we call for review and that we stopped funding. So I’m not saying that the U.S. is going to go and take a fine-tooth comb to all the U.N. agencies, but it does make other U.N. agencies watch what they’re doing and know that the United States does not turn a blind eye to any of the activities that go on in international organizations.

One of the ones unrelated in some ways to USAID but emblematic of some of the dysfunction in the UN family is something, for example, like the UN Human Rights Commission which has a regular berating of Israel as a human rights violator. Well, if you look at the membership of the UN Human Rights Council which the United States under Ambassador Nikki Haley removed itself from, the UN Human Rights Council has as its member countries like Cuba, and Venezuela, and Saudi Arabia—not exactly paragons of human rights. And yet they take the time every month to have a standing resolution against Israel, and not against Bashar al-Assad in Syria or other dictators around the world. It’s an organization that rather than doing a wholesale review of U.S. funding of it, the United States chose to withdraw along with all of our funding for it.

Mr. Jekielek: Deputy Administrator Glick, I’m wondering if you could tell us a little bit about yourself before we finish up because you’ve actually been involved in the international field of things for quite some time. I think you speak—I read—seven languages. I don’t know if that’s right, but that’s remarkable. What is it that brought you into this role?

Ms. Glick: Jan, it’s a good question. I have been involved in international relations my entire career. I began right out of graduate school as a foreign service officer in the State Department. I’m an American diplomat. I do speak seven languages, one of which is English, so only six foreign languages. And over the course of my career, I’ve had an opportunity to use all of them in situ, in the countries where I’ve done work, and I left the Department of State after about a dozen years working there in favor of trying out the private sector. And I spent about another dozen years working at IBM as a global business development executive, particularly with a focus, at the end of my time at IBM, on research and development. And particularly interesting to me, in the semiconductor industry.

Most people don’t get excited about semiconductors, but now they’re seeing in the news the importance of semiconductors, integrated circuits, microelectronics, chips, that are in everything that we use. And they’re seeing the importance now of going back to our original conversation about where things should be manufactured. And we’re now building up capacity, I would say rebuilding capacity, to manufacture the smallest microchips, seven nanometers, in the United States, which is incredibly exciting to me. I worked in nonprofits, I worked in state government, and I was asked by President Trump to come and be the deputy at the US Agency for International Development, which is an honor of a lifetime. And it’s a great agency that I had been working with early in my career as a partner agency and now I’m privileged to lead.

Mr. Jekielek: It’s very interesting that you mentioned semiconductors because there’s two vantage points. One is, there’s this very serious national security concern. You don’t want key components of our computer systems, especially involved in defense, in being manufactured in potentially hostile nations. And I think I was reading recently that a major Taiwanese innovator is building a factory in the U.S., which is not the direction you typically hear about, which is pretty fascinating. The other side is the availability of rare earths which are critical to building these chips and technologies.

Ms. Glick: Right. The rare earths and minerals piece is fascinating because it too goes back to our earlier conversation about the countries that China targets strategically for its so-called development assistance. And it has targeted countries in Africa with access to extremely valuable rare earth minerals that are then used to build up China’s manufacturing capacity for things like lithium batteries and other defense-related technologies, which they couldn’t do without access to ready supplies of these rare earth minerals. So you’re quite correct in that and it does go to show the nature of Chinese largesse—it is self-serving. In terms of TSMC making the decision to invest $12 billion in building a manufacturing plant in Arizona, all I can say is, that’s amazing. It’s great for the Arizona economy. It’s also great to be onshoring these critical microelectronics for our industry in the United States as well as for the industries of other allied countries.

Mr. Jekielek: Deputy Administrator Glick, any final words before we finish up?

Ms. Glick: On a hopeful note, I hope that the next time that we do one of these—and I hope I’m invited back—I hope we’ll be able to do it live in your studio and not from my computer room.

Mr. Jekielek: Likewise. Well, such a pleasure to have you on.

Ms. Glick: Thank you so much.

This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

American Thought Leaders is an Epoch Times show available on Facebook and YouTube and The Epoch Times website

Follow Jan on Twitter: @JanJekielek