Will EU fill the gap as US leaves WHO – or China?

The United States always prided itself on shouldering global burdens more than any other nation. Trump's erratic decision to withdraw from World Health Organization has caused a large vacuum, to the dismay of many. The European Union has emerged as a strong contender for prominence in this agency, with the bloc promising reforms. It seems that the United States has rapidly ceded ground to EU and China by this haphazard exit.

EU WHO reforms

Germany’s health minister on Wednesday lamented the formal US notification of its withdrawal from the World Health Organisation as a setback for international cooperation and said Europe would work to reform the UN health agency. He also said that the EU is looking to initiate reforms in WHO in the wake of the US exit.

The comments from German Health Minister Jens Spahn epitomised concerns in Europe over the WHO’s largest contributor preparing to pull out following the Trump administration’s complaints that the agency too readily accepted China’s explanations of its early handling of the coronavirus.

EU to initiate WHO reforms

Spahn said on Twitter that more global cooperation, not less, is needed to fight pandemics, adding: European states will initiate #WHO reforms.

The United Nations and the US State Department said that the Trump administration had formally notified the UN that the United States would leave the WHO next year.

Read more: Trump suffocated by coronavirus but Biden breathes easy

The notification, which could be rescinded by a new administration or if circumstances change, makes good on President Donald Trumps vow in late May to terminate US participation in the WHO. Trump has criticised the UN health agency for its response to Covid-19 outbreak and accused its officials of bowing to China.

The US provides WHO with more than $450 million per year and currently owes some $200 million in current and past dues.

Juergen Hardt, a foreign policy spokesman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right coalition, said that the US withdrawal damages American and Western strategic interests just as China, a key WHO member state, has been taking a greater role in international institutions.

EU planned WHO reforms: US leaves a huge vacuum in its midst

As the biggest contributor so far, the US leaves a big vacuum, Hardt said. It is foreseeable that China above all will try to fill this vacuum itself. That will further complicate necessary reforms in the organisation. It is all the more important that the EU uses its political weight and strengthens its involvement in the WHO as in other international organisations, he added. The planned WHO reforms by the EU will help further cement the eminence of the EU in the contemporary world order.

Earlier Wednesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian defended WHO and said the US move was another demonstration of the US pursuing unilateralism, withdrawing from groups and breaking contracts.

Spanish Foreign Minister Arancha Gonzlez Laya said the WHO needs more autonomy and that more preparation was needed for future pandemics.

Read more: Trump withdraws from WHO: US retreating as the “superpower”?

What we need today is more multilateralism and less national sovereignty as a guarantee for protecting our citizens, even if that means that we go against what others have said in other parts of the world, Gonzlez Laya told reporters. Let’s not get carried away by siren songs.

Dr David Heymann, an American who is a former senior director at WHO, said he was very disappointed at the US decision to exit the agency. He said he expects Germany and other countries to step forward if the US funding and expertise that has benefited WHO ends.

As much as it would be terrible if the US leaves WHO and leaves (with) that expertise it has provided throughout the years, the WHO would continue to function, Heymann said.

Other global health experts warned that no other agency could do what WHO does and that the US departure would severely weaken it — and public health more broadly.

USA’s status as superpower waning

Amid opacity hovering over post-pandemic world — one thing is certain — the prevailing global contagion is likely to alter the course of the world. A chronological account of the world reveals, major natural catastrophes have toppled some of the greatest empires and annihilated many dynasties; the ongoing calamity is moving on the same trajectory with similar intensity and enormity.

Hence, it is likely to undergo comparable outcomes. The status of the United States as a superpower is waning amid haphazard decisions enforced by the Trump administration.

The United States, which was once the largest contributor to the World Health Organisation, has surrendered its influence in global healthcare regulation. This is a bad premonition for the United States, as it comes at a time when it is ceding ground to China in this sphere.

Read more: Post-pandemic world: Is China going to replace U.S. as superpower?

Whereas Trump administration has exploited the pandemic to pull back on integration, China is using this crisis to showcase its willingness to lead. Despite early mistakes that nearly cost the lives of thousands of people, Beijing has now learnt how to fight the new virus. It also has large stockpiles of the required paraphernalia. These are, for sure, valuable assets for China to exert its influence and regain its lost economic niche in the world.

It seems as if the United States is on its way out of global hegemony. And analysts say that this pandemic will lead to an even more rapid rise of China.

Watch Dr. Mooed Pirzada discuss the ongoing pandemic-fuelled tensions between China and the United States and chart out a course for potential reconciliation between the belligerent powers:

GVS News Desk with additional input by other sources

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