A recent news item in the international press made for disturbing reading. It said that the World Health Organization team investigating the origin of the coronavirus sat in Beijing for three weeks and did not go anywhere near Wuhan, which is known to be the source of the virus. The WHO apparently clarified that the team was laying the groundwork for the visit of an international delegation to investigate the origin of the virus, but it could not make it clear whether or not the next delegation too would get to visit Wuhan. In effect, this means that the truth about the origin of the virus is unlikely to come out and that China will not be held accountable for giving the virus to the world. This is a classic case of getting away with murder, literally—25,541,380 confirmed coronavirus cases (on 2 September) worldwide, 852,000 deaths, economies lost, livelihoods perished, billions of lives put on hold, and all because of a virus which clearly originated in China and whose spread could have been contained if there was prior warning. Worse, WHO is party to all this—by not telling the world about the threat that the virus posed to humanity or that it was raging in China since at least November 2019, also by not asking China to stop outbound travel, because of which the virus spread to the four corners of the globe. Instead, WHO declared the virus to be a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern” only on 30 January 2020 and a global pandemic on 11 March 2020! Now that the world has been left tottering, the question is, who will hold China accountable? Who will make China pay reparations? Who will stop China from profiteering from this tragedy? Of what use is an international body such as the WHO when it behaves like an extension of China? Ironically, until the time Donald Trump pulled the plug on WHO’s funding, China was nowhere near giving the kind of money that the United States was giving WHO. And despite the “funds freeze”, the US actually contributed more to WHO’s global pandemic fund ($34 million) than China did ($25 million).
But obviously, China has managed to influence enough of WHO’s upper echelons for this world body to become a Chinese appendage. But shunning the WHO the way the United States is doing is also not the solution, because WHO’s involvement in areas of global health care cannot be discounted. Also, by looking inward, the US is ceding too much space to China in international institutions, which is not desirable because an authoritarian imperialist power such as China cannot be allowed to lead the world. In this context, it is time to talk about India’s role as the chair of WHO’s decision making executive body. At a time when China is treating WHO as its puppet, let’s hope that India will not be a silent spectator to all the goings-on there, for silence is also a form of assent. At stake is global health care and the interests of countries that are reeling from the China-gifted virus. India needs to lead, so it is hoped that it will not take its habitual diffidence about taking on China to this world forum as well. One area that India can really work on is getting the WHO to make amends to Taiwan for not giving it observer status at the World Health Assembly for fear of China. This island nation has successfully tackled the virus and the world can learn a lot from its experience. China’s unhappiness is immaterial here. India needs to build a consensus on Taiwan and on the matter of holding China accountable. There is enough anger in the world against China’s criminal role in spreading the virus. It is time India helped channelize that anger for the sake of global good.