BBC NewsDay: Trump’s WHO threats

19 MAY 2020

Topics: COVID-19

JOURNALIST: What is your response to the Trump threat to withdraw from the WHO? What will the effect of that be?

KEVIN RUDD: It’s very difficult to identify what’s real in President Trump’s policy agenda and what is pure, day to day, retail politic, by way of the politics of, shall we say, continuing distraction. But let’s assume for the purposes of this discussion it’s a real proposal. The United States has been progressively reducing its overall funding to the World Health Organization for some time. But for the United States to comprehensively withdraw funding would mean that the effectiveness of the WHO, particularly in developing countries where the virus is yet to have its full impact, would be grossly irresponsible in international humanitarian terms. Remember, in various of these countries the WHO goes in and advises and/or provides direct material help in the setting up of health systems to deal with a crisis on the ground. It’s not like a series of abstract pieces of advice to the developed world saying ‘be mindful of this and deploy fully your systems’; it’s saying to developing countries, ‘this is what you need to do and, by the way, there are people on a plane now to help you set it up’.

JOURNALIST: And wouldn’t the effect also be that in terms of the great power balance on the WHO, this just drives the WHO further into the arms and sphere of influence of China, which is exactly what Donald Trump doesn’t want to happen, he says.

RUDD: Well, the incoherence in United States multilateral strategy, period, both to the World Health Organization, but also the World Trade Organization, and various other institutions such as the Human Rights Council frankly beggars belief. If on the one hand, United States is saying that China is using a geopolitical and geo-economic muscle to increase its leverage over international institutions, and to make those institutions more compliant with Chinese interests and values, and on the other hand, the United States simply unilaterally withdraws, then it follows as a matter of logical consequence the China’s overall footprint on these organizations grows exponentially. The same for the World Health Organization.

JOURNALIST: And at the moment we see the European Union and Australia forwarding this draft resolution to the WTO wanting an independent inquiry. In a sense they would want to hold China’s feet to the fire just like President Trump would, but Europe and Australia are being abandoned by their ally in their attempt to get to the bottom of what happened in Wuhan at the beginning of the pandemic.

RUDD: Well, the intrinsics around the World Health Assembly, which is currently underway or has just been underway and it’s resolution to look at these matters, it’s a complex picture. The United States is not one of the co-signatories behind this recommendation for an international investigation. It’s been led by the European Union, then Australia joined together with dozens of other countries. But the overall, shall we say, net political impact of this overarching US threat of unilateral withdrawal frankly lends no support whatsoever to the substance of the demand here by the international community at large which is: how did the virus come about? How was it transmitted? Were there proper notifications nationally within China and then from Beijing to the WHO? And what did the WHO then do about it? That’s what the international community wants to get to the bottom of. This US action does not help.