Express: After Covid disaster, surely the game’s up for the pitiable World Health Organisation

This article was first published in the Daily Express.

Since the first case of Covid was detected in Wuhan in December 2019, the coronavirus has infected over 130 million people across the world, killing almost 3 million. Many thousands of words have been written about the failures of local health authorities like Public Health England in preparing us for a pandemic, but perhaps the most important body of all has still not been properly held to account: the World Health Organisation (WHO).

Before 2020, most Brits probably didn’t know very much, if anything, about the WHO. It’s an arm of the United Nations, like the International Monetary Fund or the World Trade Organisation, spending most of its time working away in the background to safeguard against health emergencies, leaving the rest of us to get on with our lives. Except, of course, as we have now learned, the WHO was wilfully neglecting its duties and generally doing a terrible job, at enormous cost.

The WHO was wildly unprepared for the pandemic – with tragic consequences – because it spent much of its time playing politics rather than serving its purpose. It failed to do any of the things it should have done when the virus first broke out, even those as fundamental as being transparent about what was going on. It wasted valuable time before declaring a pandemic. It cosied up to China rather than tracing the origin of the virus. It issued actively harmful advice against masks.

Put simply, it is hard to imagine how a well-funded body charged with protecting people’s health could possibly have performed any worse. Even putting aside its appallingly close political relationship with the dictatorial, genocidal Chinese Communist Party, the WHO failed to perform its most basic function, tripping up at every hurdle. If the world had been better prepared, perhaps Covid would not have resulted in the unnecessary deaths of millions of people.

The WHO has form when it comes to mishandling epidemics. During the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic, and again during the 2014 Ebola outbreak, it came under widespread criticism.

One of the factors singled out as a cause of its mismanagement of these crises was its aversion to offending member states, in exactly the same way that it is now loath to offend China.

There’s no reason why these awful failures should be ‘the new normal’, so to speak. In the twentieth century, the WHO was effectively responsible for eradicating smallpox. But since then, things seem to have gone drastically downhill.

The WHO has patently failed to adequately address the scourge of anti-vaxxers leading to diseases like measles, which were all but eradicated, but which are now making a comeback around the world.

The WHO also received widespread criticism from animal conservation groups for recognising traditional Chinese medicine in its international guidelines after lobbying by Beijing, despite its role in driving the illegal trade and poaching of endangered species including pangolins and tigers — a trade that might ironically have contributed to the coronavirus’s outbreak in the first place.

The problems with the WHO run deep. It should not have taken a once-in-a-generation health disaster to expose them.

It’s time to ask some existential and probing questions. What is the WHO? What is it for? Where are its vast funds coming from? At the moment, it is trying to pretend it is both a humble, do-gooder charity which just has our best interests at heart and an all-powerful supranational organisation. It wants to be the undisputed centre of power for healthcare around the world, but without ever being held accountable for its actions. If the WHO is a charity, it should not be playing politics and cosying up to dictatorial regimes. If it’s not a charity, it must be subject to proper democratic oversight.

The WHO has not expressed any hint of remorse over its failures. There is no reason to think it is going to voluntarily change the way it operates. It’s high time for the rest of us to stand up to it and demand some answers.

Express: China is threatening Taiwan. Britain must stand up for what’s right

This article was first published in the Daily Express.

In December 1949, following a brutal civil war in which millions died, the government of the Republic of China retreated to the island of Taiwan. With the support of the Soviet Union, Mao Zedong’s Communists had seized control of Beijing and implemented a dictatorship.

To this day, the Communist Party rules over mainland China – and its 1.4 billion inhabitants – while the Republic of China remains consigned to Taiwan. Fast-forward 70 years and Beijing has an economic stranglehold over most of the Western world while Taiwan is ostracised and outcast, nearly to the same extent as North Korea. Taiwan’s requests to join the UN have been repeatedly snubbed. Almost no countries recognise its sovereignty and nationhood, obeying the dogmatic Communist doctrine of the One-China Policy under threats of tariffs and trade restrictions from Beijing.

The 24 million-strong Taiwanese populace – and its democratically-elected government – are excluded from the international community.

China has become so powerful that Europe and the US have for decades collectively turned a blind eye to its flagrant human rights abuses and undue influence in key international institutions like the World Health Organisation, out of fear of economic retribution.

Western economies have become so intimately entangled with Chinese industry – and therefore with the omnipotent Chinese government – that Beijing now feels it can get away with almost anything.

But 2020 marks something of a watershed moment for Chinese relations with the West.

The Chinese Communist Party’s sins have reached a tipping point. China’s outrageous confiscating of power in Hong Kong, combined with its appalling genocide of the Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and its coverup of vital information relating to the initial coronavirus outbreak – at a cost of tens of thousands of lives – has left Western governments with no choice but to act.

Though they have been tepid so far, responses from the West are beginning to trickle through.

Huawei was swiftly removed from the UK’s 5G network and three million Hong Kong residents who had found themselves under Beijing’s boot were invited to relocate to Britain and offered a path to British citizenship.

But one aspect of China’s recent belligerence – perhaps the most troubling of all – remains largely unaddressed.

In recent days and weeks, China has issued a number of troubling military threats against Taiwan.

It has been making a show of flaunting its military prowess and is even flirting publicly with the idea of invasion.

The Chinese government believes that Taiwan is its sovereign territory. From Beijing’s point of view, China is perfectly within its rights to do whatever it pleases in Taiwan.

In Hong Kong, the Communist government had no hesitation in sending in hordes of riot police to violently subdue peaceful pro-democracy protesters, resulting in innumerable tragedies.

In Taiwan, they won’t be sending in the police. This time, it will be the military.

There is, of course, a necessary trade-off in foreign policy decisions. Sometimes we have to allow other countries to conduct their business in their own way, even if they do so differently to how we would have done it.

But there comes a point when humanity and compassion must supersede political convenience, when it becomes unconstructive – and indeed, destructive – to set a precedent of inaction as rogue governments run rampant. In the case of China, we passed that point a long time ago.

Taiwan is a model democracy. It represents everything that post-Brexit Global Britain should be working alongside and fighting to defend.

As Britain leaves the EU and carves out a new place for itself in the world, we must stand up for human rights and the importance of national sovereignty on the international stage. And that means standing up to China.