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Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization.Naohiko Hatta - Pool/Getty Images

WASHINGTON, D.C., May 14, 2020 (C-Fam) — The annual meeting of the World Health Assembly opens next week amid the worst global pandemic in a hundred years and heightened tensions between the United States and China.

A showdown between U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and World Health Organization Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus occurred this week over whether Taiwan, which has not been a permanent UN member state since 1971, would be allowed to participate with observer status. New Zealand, Canada, Australia, and Germany backed the United States. Tedros backed China and refused to invite Taiwan.

“The WHA will open with fireworks,” longtime World Health Assembly watcher Scott Fischbach told the Friday Fax. “Never before has a U.S. Secretary of State weighed in on the issue of Taiwan, much less has he been so publicly defied by the top bureaucrat.” Fischbach is executive director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.

The main dispute is that Taiwan has been, by many estimates, the most successful nation in fighting COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus that spread across the globe after originating in Wuhan, China.

The Taiwanese sent a delegation to Wuhan at the outset of the crisis, put together protocols for their own country and succeeded in lowering the infection and death rates. “A lot of countries want that information and won’t have it next week thanks to Tedros,” Fischbach said.

Under Tedros’ predecessor, China’s Margaret Chan, the Taiwanese came every year, sitting in the back with the Holy See and other observer nations.

Typically, the nations of the World Health Assembly meet for a week to ten days. This time they will meet for two days in an online forum. Tedros’ supporters will likely use the occasion to defend the bureaucrat, whose tight relationship with the Chinese Communist government spurred criticism and alarm at his handling of the coronavirus crisis.

Evidence emerged that China misled other nations about whether the novel coronavirus could be spread from human to human. Tedros backed China’s false claim. In March, Taiwan said the WHO had ignored its December warnings that the virus was spreading human-to-human. Tedros attacked Taiwanese leaders as “racists.” Tedros has used daily briefings to raise his profile in the organization’s response, a strategy that could backfire on him, according to critics.

“I don’t think any country has a perfect record,” Bill Gates said in a recent interview about national responses to the coronavirus crisis. “Taiwan comes close.” Gates’s foundation is the second largest donor to the WHO after the United States.

President Trump announced that the United States would withhold funds from the WHO, citing Tedros’ poor performance.

“I’m not sure the WHO has been a great value for the U.S.,” Fischbach said when asked about the U.S. pullout. “The U.S. doesn’t get a lot of respect in Geneva, despite all the money we spend there. Bill Gates walks around with more swagger than the U.S. ambassador.”

One of the resolutions under consideration next week refers to “sexual and reproductive health.” The United States is expected to oppose the term because it is used to promote abortion, while Tedros has supported abortion rights during his term.

The online format and abbreviated session means that nations will not go through extensive reports, such as the just-released global health statistics. The agenda will focus on COVID-19, with an opening, election of a president and vice presidents, a presidential address, and invited speakers. Tedros and heads of delegations are expected to speak.

Nations will then hold elections to the executive board, the most powerful component of the WHA. The board’s 34 members are elected for 3-year terms based upon regional representation. The executive board will meet on Friday, May 22nd. The United States and China are both serving three-year terms which expire in 2021. Admiral Brett P. Giroir represents the United States. Ms. Zhang Yang represents China.

Published with permission from C-Fam.