rejoined the World Health Organization as one of his first official acts, and his Administration has vowed to “strengthen and reform” it. That effort isn’t going well, as last week’s World Health Assembly shows.
The annual WHO confab started badly as China succeeded in blocking Taiwan’s participation—and embarrassing the U.S. in the process. The island democracy, which hoped to participate as an observer, has one of the world’s best records combatting Covid-19 and could spread its lessons to the world.
Secretary of State
said last month that there is “no reasonable justification for Taiwan’s continued exclusion from this forum,” and the G-7 nations supported its participation. But China, which tries to block Taiwan from all international institutions, prevailed over the Western democracies.
Then on Friday the World Health Assembly voted to appoint Syria and Belarus to WHO’s executive board, which sets the governing body’s agenda and implements its policies. Video of the vote shows it proceeding with neither debate nor objections.
These board seats reward Syrian President
whose regime has slaughtered its own people and bombed hospitals; and Belarus dictator
who hijacked a passenger aircraft last month to arrest a critic. Syria will be represented by Minister of Health
Hassan Mohammad Al Ghabbash,
who was sanctioned by the U.K. for sharing responsibility “for the Syrian regime’s violent repression against the civilian population.”
The State Department did not respond to our request for comment on this WHO fiasco, though such appointments have become the norm at United Nations agencies. The U.S. has contributed more than $616.5 million to the WHO since January 2020, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
But last week’s business as usual calls into question how much the Biden Administration can influence, much less reform, the WHO. If it can’t make a difference, then the U.S. is paying for an international body dominated by dictators who will assist China in blocking any serious probe of Covid-19’s origin. The Trump Administration’s decision to walk away from the WHO is looking better every day.
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Appeared in the June 2, 2021, print edition.