Published: 11:50, July 13, 2020 | Updated: 22:33, June 5, 2023
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Withdrawal from WHO bad for US, global public health
By Zhang Mengchen

On July 7, the US administration submitted its notification for withdrawal from the World Health Organization to United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. But since withdrawal from the WHO requires a year's notice, it will not go into effect until July 6, 2021. Before the formal withdrawal, however, the US needs to pay all its financial dues to the global public health body.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic broke out, the US president has been trying to shift the responsibility for his administration's failure to contain the outbreak at home by blaming the WHO (and China, in good measure) for the spread of the public health crisis.

That the WHO has faced threats and criticisms from the White House shows that the US' unilateral approach is not restricted to trade and political matters; it extends to health and other public welfare fields too.

Yet this is not the first time the US has withdrawn from an international organization, or multilateral or bilateral agreement. It has pulled out of UNESCO and the UN Human Rights Council, and abandoned the Iran nuclear deal and the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, to name a few, dealing a blow to international cooperation, even global peace and stability.

Due to the US administration's failure to contain the pandemic, the country has the highest number of infections and deaths in the world. And the withdrawal from the WHO means the US will not be part of global decision-making to combat the virus and global efforts to develop and access vaccines and therapeutics, making it more vulnerable to COVID-19. Of course, the US will also not be required to share the pandemic data and vaccine information with the rest of the world. Needless to say, such US actions pose a serious threat to global public health.

Washington's shortsighted approach to the pandemic and global public health has been criticized by experts both in the US and abroad, not least because it is not an attempt to achieve any policy effect but a move to fulfill the president's ambition of being reelected by mobilizing popular support.

However, Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has said he would annul the decision to withdraw from the WHO on the first day in office if he wins the election. In addition, 750 US experts in global public health, international law and international relations have written a letter to US Congress opposing the US' withdrawal from the WHO and asked Congress to act on it.

The actions of the president are inseparable from US domestic politics, as more than 70 percent of Republican supporters have a poor opinion of the WHO's performance in prevention and control according to a June poll. But the southern states of the US are nowhere near flattening the curve, which is a not so promising sign for the US president four months before the election. Even in Texas and some other traditional Republican states, confirmed cases are increasing rapidly.

In sum, as Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said, the US' withdrawal from the WHO undermines international efforts to contain the pandemic and will have serious negative repercussions on global cooperation on health issues.

The author is a researcher with Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies at Renmin University of China.

The views don't necessarily reflect those of China Daily.