Update (1337ET): Just a minute ago, a new headline hit the wire claiming a White House spokesman decried Xi's $2 billion pledge as little more than a bribe and a distraction meant to deflect from China's failings during the early days of the outbreak.
- WHITE HOUSE SPOKESMAN CALLS CHINA'S $2 BLN PLEDGE TO WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION A 'TOKEN' TO DISTRACT FROM CHINA'S FAILURE TO 'WARN THE WORLD OF WHAT WAS COMING'
* * *
Update (1320ET): As the first day of the WHO's annual meeting got underway, the WHO's Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus promised to lead an "independent" investigation into the origins of the outbreak, while the US continued to criticize both China and the WHO for failing to alert the world to the burgeoning outbreak.
The US has blamed the WHO for complicity with Beijing as Chinese officials are suspected of having knowingly withheld information about the emerging new SARS-like pathogen raging in Wuhan. And again on Monday, DHHS Secretary Alex Azar slammed the organization as equally responsible for the outbreak, along with Beijing.
"We must be frank about one of the primary reasons this outbreak spun out of control," he said. "There was a failure by this organization to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives."
Dr. Tedros defended the WHO, saying “WHO sounded the alarm early, and we sounded it often."
The director-general, who has always supported a review, promised to begin "at the earliest appropriate moment." The outcome would be used to make recommendations for the future.
"Every country and every organization must examine its response and learn from its experience," he said, adding that the review must cover “all actors in good faith."
The WHO's oversight council supported Dr. Tedros's decision and a statement praising the WHO's response to the pandemic. The seven-member oversight committee said Tedros and the WHO had "demonstrated leadership and made important progress in its COVID-19 response."
And although the panel endorsed the review, it agreed with Beijing that conducting it now could hamper the organization's response to the virus as new hot spots emerge.
As far as the criticisms about the WHO withholding information, the organization responded that "an imperfect and evolving understanding” was not unusual during a pandemic's early days while criticizing "the rising political polarization" of the pandemic response - an apparent swing at Trump.
Meanwhile, a EU-drafted and Australia-supported resolution calling for an independent evaluation of the WHO’s performance appeared to have won consensus backing among the WHO’s 194 states. It's expected to be debated and adopted on Tuesday.
* * *
Beijing has been working to reframe the global narrative surrounding the coronavirus outbreak by playing up the generous medical aid it has extended to some of its allies (including Italy, Russia, Iran and many BRI partner-nations) while Chinese tabloids and gossip sites spread disinformation like this gem: reports that last summer's "vaping illness" panic was a coverup orchestrated by President Trump to hide the fact that the coronavirus truly originated in the US.
Amid the first stirrings of a second wave of the outbreak in northeastern China, President Xi on Monday delivered a keynote address to kick off the annual meeting of WHO members at The World Health Assembly (WHA) - which is occurring virtually this year - where he promised to share a China-developed coronavirus vaccine with the entire world (once they've developed it, that is).
As Beijing battles for the hearts and minds of residents across the vast geopolitical middle-ground in an increasingly bi-polar world, Xi also pledged $2 billion in financial support for next two years to help developing nations in Africa and elsewhere deal with the fallout of COVID-19. Moreover, Beijing will work with the UN to set up a global humanitarian response depot and hub in China and help establish so-called "green corridors" to ship 'essential goods' like medicine produced in China to the rest of the world more quickly, Xi said.
"China will work with members of the Group of 20 nations to implement the debt relief initiative for the poorest countries," he said.
That's quite the basket of incentives to dangle in front of the world as more than 100 countries prepare to back a vote to hold an independent investigation into the outbreak.
In the face of mounting criticism, Xi defended China's actions after the COVID-19 outbreak emerged in Wuhan, and insisted the country acted "transparently" to share information with the rest of the world, despite mounting evidence that China withheld information about the virus's ability to spread from person to person.
And in a defense that we felt was vaguely reminiscent of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg's "support" for more privacy oversight of Silicon Valley tech giants, Xi claimed he would support a "comprehensive evaluation" of the early days of the outbreak once the virus had been brought to heel.
“China supports a comprehensive evaluation of the global response to the epidemic after the global epidemic is under control, to sum up experiences and remedy deficiencies,” Xi told the assembly. “This work needs a scientific and professional attitude, and needs to be led by the WHO; and the principles of objectivity and fairness need to be upheld.”
Xi was careful to strike a conciliatory tone - in stark contrast to the belligerent comments toward the US and Australia. The strategy is obvious: Use the growing support for an investigation to milk sympathy for China by portraying the US and Australia as anti-Beijing crusaders hoping to pin all their political problems on Beijing.