Sitting alongside Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, World Health Organization director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was effusive in his praise of the country’s response to the coronavirus crisis.
“We appreciate the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak, especially the commitment from top leadership, and the transparency they have demonstrated,” Tedros said, in comments that would be repeatedly quoted in China’s state media for weeks.
This was in late January, after Xi had taken control of the situation due to local officials’ apparent failure to contain the outbreak to Hubei province.
As the two men met in the Chinese capital, the number of cases was rising, and revelations were emerging that officials in Hubei province and Wuhan – the city where the virus was first detected – had sought to downplay and control news about the virus, even threatening medical whistleblowers with arrest.
Days later, the WHO declared a global public health emergency, and once again Tedros praised Beijing’s response.
While China did act quickly following Xi’s intervention, placing several major cities on lockdown and pouring resources into the battle against the virus, it has maintained tight control over information about the virus and efforts to control its spread have veered on the side of draconian.
The WHO’s praise of China’s response have led critics to question the relationship between the two entities. The UN agency relied on funding and the cooperation of members to function, giving wealthy member states like China considerable influence. Perhaps one of the most overt examples of China’s sway over the WHO is its success in blocking Taiwan’s access to the body, a position that could have very real consequences for the Taiwanese people if the virus