China and the World Health Organization: From Conspiracies to Facts


Right off the bat, we want to make it clear that when it comes to the COVID-19 pandemic, the World Health Organization has made absolutely terrible mistakes, from downplaying the danger associated with the virus at the very beginning to the confusing attitude when it comes to recommending (or not recommending) masks and the list could go on and on.

Few intellectually honest observers would consider the attitude of the WHO perfect, so there’s a quasi-consensus when it comes to that. This changes, however, and leaves ample room for controversy and even conspiracy theories once we move on to analyzing the “reasons” dimension. More specifically, WHY was the World Health Organization wrong?

Broadly speaking, there are two main categories as far as potential answers are concerned:

  1. It was wrong for political reasons, in an effort to help China and continue receiving Chinese funding, in other words the WHO experts released information they knew was wrong because they were politically motivated to do so
  2. It was wrong simply because this is how the scientific method works when analyzing a virus you don’t have all that much in the way of experience with. There are bound to be errors along the way, especially at the very beginning. It’s what (ironically) makes the scientific method imperfect yet at the same time better than the alternatives, the fact that scientist learn from errors and bounce right back until the truth is discovered

Needless to say, it’s answer #1 which tends to lead to various conspiracy theories about the wealthy China which somehow “bribed” the WHO so as to further its agenda when it comes to on the one hand silencing those who wanted to spread the word about the virus initially and on the other hand, excessively praise China’s handling of the COVID-19 problem later on.

As far as the latter is concerned, it is indeed undeniable that the World Health Organization took things (way) too far when it comes to Beijing, including even terms such as “openness to sharing information” (which are downright ludicrous) used by Director-General Tedros. WHO critics are quick to point out this propaganda-driven intellectual bribery as they see it, whereas WHO defenders claim that in the absence of such flattery, China would have been even more opaque.

At the end of the day, there is no way to “know” with respect to such motives but what we do have more than enough of are money-related numbers which make answer #1 seem downright peculiar. Why? Simply because WHO financing numbers do anything but paint the picture of a World Health Organization that is dependent on China… on the contrary.

If anything, the WHO can be considered ultra-dependent on the United States, with position number one in terms of 2018-2019 financial contributors being occupied by the US (with a grand total of $893 million) and position two being occupied by the US billionaire Bill Gates’ foundation (with a grand total of $531 million).

China is not even in the top 10, with positions 3 to 10 being occupied by the United Kingdom ($435 million), GAVI Alliance ($371 million), Germany ($292 million), Japan ($215 million), UNOCHA ($192 million), Rotary International ($143 million), the World Bank ($133 million) and the European Commission ($131 million).

While it is true that China’s contribution went up over 50% (52%, to be more precise) since 2014, it did so from a less than impressive starting point and as such, China’s 2018-2019 contribution represented a less than impressive $86 million, over ten times less than that of the United States. If anything, this tends to suggest a narrative involving a WHO that would have been incentivized to do the exact opposite, paint China in a negative light so as to please its largest donor by far (the United States) rather than alienate it (which is what ended up happening, with the US deciding to cut World Health Organization funding, a devastating blow which risks representing a humanitarian disaster in light of the fact that the WHO has responsibilities which go well beyond COVID-19, many of which involve some of the world’s most vulnerable nations).

In the aftermath of the United States’ decision to cut WHO funding, it is almost certain that funding from China will improve but there is absolutely no way it can improve to the tune of nine figures yearly. As such, the entire conspiracy falls flat on its face when confronted with the previously mentioned numbers: why on Earth would China conspire against its largest contributor by far in an effort to please a contributor that isn’t even in the top 10?

As a conclusion, it is vital to point out that devastating mistakes are inevitable when dealing with a threat as new and therefore improperly understood as COVID-19, it’s how the scientific method works (learning from mistakes, building on the shoulders of giants, etc.), a scientific method that while imperfect, lead to us having the very Internet and gadgets used by many of today’s uninformed individuals to spread conspiracy theories that are the exact opposite of scientific.

China made significant mistakes, especially early on, and will most definitely end up paying for them. The WHO made its share of mistakes as well, many of which are quite frustrating in nature. But stating that there is some sort of mystical chain of causality which revolves around the WHO making mistakes because China made mistakes that needed to be covered up for propaganda reasons makes absolutely zero sense from the perspective of even basic logic and is therefore an attitude that goes against everything the team stands for. As dangerous as it is to be a “China cheerleader” who sees everything coming from Beijing through rose-colored glasses, embracing the exact opposite extreme is certainly not the way to go either.

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