US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has defended President Donald Trump withholding funding to the World Health Organisation (WHO) saying the UN body had “not been responsible” in handling the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a conference call from Washington DC on Thursday with five editors from Central and South Asia, Pompeo said the United States would lead the international response to the disease to address the health and economic challenges for countries including Nepal, India and the rest of the region.
Asked by Nepali Times why the United States was scapegoating the WHO at a time when international cooperation was most needed to find antidotes to the disease, Pompeo replied: “We are not scapegoating the WHO, we are executing the mission to protect citizens. It has not lived up to its responsibility … it has failed in its basic duty, and when the organisation fails we will find another mechanism.”
The United States provided $400 million to the WHO last year, and is one of its biggest donors. Trump’s pause in funding is expected to last 2-3 months and will reportedly be resumed after a review of the agency’s activities.
He said the United States has delivered more than $500 million to help countries all over the world through USAID and the State Department to fight the pandemic, and that does not including WHO.
He did not repeat President Trump’s accusation on Tuesday that the WHO was “pro-China”, but said that Beijing had not disclosed facts and data pertaining to the outbreak and that China had to “open up and be held accountable”.
On Wednesday, in an interview with Fox News, Pompeo urged China “to come clean on exactly how the virus spread”. There has been speculation that virus could have leaked out of the labs of the Wuhan Institute of Virology, which is located near the wet market where the infections started.
The WHO has repeatedly denied that the novel coronavirus was made in a lab, and has maintained that it is natural and jumped from bats to humans through another mammal host, likely pangolins.
On Thursday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian dismissed Pompeo’s remarks, telling a press briefing in Beijing: “Officials of the World Health Organization have repeatedly said there’s no evidence the virus was made in a lab, and many experts have also said the claim lacks scientific proof.”
During his conference call on Thursday, Pompeo was also asked if he thought that the pandemic would result in the global power balance to shift from the United States to China becoming number one. He replied: “The United States, the world’s democracies and freedom-loving people will come out of this far better than authoritarian countries. It is not accurate to say that countries with central authority have been able to deal with a global pandemic like this better than democracies. America will be at the front to meet the challenge and lead it.”
He added that India and the United States were coordinating their efforts in responding to the pandemic in medical equipment and drugs. But he said the crisis had not stopped the two countries in continuing to address the bigger issues like the Indo-Pacific partnership, trade and “the challenges that China poses”.
The US move to stop funding to WHO for being “China-centric” has come under widespread criticism from world leaders, and critics have said President Trump is trying to deflect the blame for his lapses that allowed the pandemic to spread across the country.
The United States now has nearly a third of the 2.1 million coronavirus cases worldwide, and has recorded 28,500 deaths from the disease so far.