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Trump rejected an invitation to address WHO while China’s Xi accepted

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  • President Donald Trump rejected an invitation to address the WHO, and Health and Human Services Secretary spoke to the virtual gathering on Monday instead. 
  • Azar used the address as an opportunity to slam the WHO, accusing it of failing to provide accurate information on COVID-19 in the early days of the outbreak.
  • Meanwhile, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to the gathering and pledged $2 billion to the global coronavirus response. 
  • This came as Trump faces criticism for retreating from the global stage amid the pandemic, and as senators push for the US to play a more active role in the international effort to thwart COVID-19.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump declined an invitation to address a virtual gathering of the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday, in yet another example of the US abdicating its traditional role as a global leader during his tenure. 

Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Alex Azar spoke in lieu of Trump, and excoriated the UN’s health agency in the process. 

Echoing previous statements from Trump, the HHS secretary said the WHO failed to provide accurate information on COVID-19 in the early days of the outbreak. “And that failure cost many lives,” Azar said, per Axios

“We saw that WHO failed at its core mission of information-sharing and transparency when member states do not act in good faith,” Azar said. “This cannot ever happen again. The status quo is intolerable. WHO must change and it must become far more transparent and far more accountable.”

This came roughly a month after Trump announced plans to cut US funding to the WHO, despite warnings from global health experts that doing so could exacerbate the coronavirus pandemic given the vital role the agency plays in helping developing countries deal with health crises. Trump has alleged the WHO is too China-centric, essentially accusing the organization of allowing Beijing to deceive the world about the dangers of COVID-19 and the scale of the outbreak. 

“If the WHO had done its job, and not enabled China’s refusal to be transparent, the world would likely be in a very different place right now. Now is the time for answers and transparency, not a photo opportunity aimed at conveying a false sense of solidarity,” an unnamed White House official told Axios. 

When asked on Monday afternoon why he skipped the virtual event, Trump called the WHO a “puppet of China.”

Though Trump in April slammed the WHO for applauding China’s transparency after COVID-19 first emerged, the president also praised Chinese President Xi Jinping in this regard in late January. Trump continued to praise China throughout February and into March, but as the US outbreak worsened he began to blame Beijing for the pandemic. Some experts now warn that the US and China are on the brink of a new Cold War.

While Trump did not speak at the WHO’s virtual event, China’s Xi accepted the invitation and during his address pledged $2 billion to the worldwide coronavirus response. Other global leaders such as French President  Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also spoke, per Axios. 

Trump has been widely accused of removing US leadership from the world stage as president, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic. Earlier this month, the US was also absent from a meeting of world leaders in which $8 billion was pledged toward the development of vaccines and treatments for COVID-19.

Along these lines, Senate Democratic Whip Dick Durbin in the past week issued a resolution, along with 39 of his colleagues, calling for the US to be more involved in international efforts to combat COVID-19. 

“I was dismayed when amid the devastating global coronavirus pandemic, the US sat out a recent virtual conference to collaborate and raise funds to research, manufacture, and distribute possible coronavirus treatments and a vaccine. It was yet another short sighted and critically missed opportunity by the Trump administration,” Durbin said in a statement. “We should be a part of these efforts to not only offer American expertise, but to also share in the lifesaving benefits. That is why 39 Senators have joined me in introducing a straightforward resolution that calls on the United States to join these global efforts.

As the US has stepped away from global leadership, China has often filled the void. Beijing has faced global backlash over COVID-19, and has taken steps to bolster its image as countries deal with the pandemic. Trump’s move to cut funding from the WHO served as a propaganda boost for the Chinese, as China’s foreign ministry used it as an opportunity to accuse the use of undermining the global effort to defeat COVID-19.

“Trump’s ineptitude is exposed, but more than that, the US is not there to help others. We are not a global power in this pandemic, and people will remember that,” Cynthia Schneider, who was the US ambassador to the Netherlands from 1998 to 2001, told Insider last month. “When there’s a void, there’s always something to fill the void. China is filling the void.” 

Critics of Trump have also said that the president’s attacks on the WHO and China are meant to deflect from his own failures in terms of responding to coronavirus. The US is the epicenter of the coronavirus pandemic, with nearly 90,000 confirmed deaths from the virus and over 1.4 million reported cases, per data from Johns Hopkins. The pandemic has also left roughly 36 million Americans unemployed in a matter of weeks. 

The US contributes the most WHO funding of any country, providing roughly 15% of its budget. Trump in recent days has flirted with restoring some funding to the WHO, but has appeared as though he might decide against doing so after criticism of the plan from Fox News personalities like Tucker Carlson.

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