We have been critical of China’s early coverup of the outbreak in Wuhan, which hampered the response. Nor was it smart of the WHO to lavish praise on China when the concealment was evident. But Mr. Xi’s announcement Monday shows a desire by Beijing to remain engaged in fighting the pandemic, wield influence at the WHO and be at the table when the lessons of the disaster are weighed.
Where was President Trump? He and his administration were still debating whether to ax some or all of the U.S. contribution to the WHO. Secretary of Health and Human Services Alex Azar, in video remarks to the assembly, parroted Mr. Trump, blaming China and the WHO for the crisis, a crude scapegoating intended to divert attention from Washington’s own failures. Hasn’t it occurred to Mr. Trump and his advisers that, if they really want to learn how the pandemic began, it would be far better to show up for the investigation than to walk away? Mr. Xi is opening his checkbook, just as Mr. Trump is gathering up his marbles to go home.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus told the assembly that he would “at the earliest appropriate moment” start an evaluation “to review experience gained and lessons learned, and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response.” Among other goals, this would be a good opportunity for the WHO to probe what happened in China late last year, both the biomedical chain of infection and the Chinese concealment, as well as to examine the good, bad and ugly of national responses.
Mr. Tedros correctly pointed out that previous disease outbreaks were followed by extensive reviews that called on nations to better prepare, but many of those suggestions were later forgotten. “The world can no longer afford the short-term amnesia that has characterized its response to health security for too long,” he said. The same point could be made about the United States. Congress ought to create a bipartisan national commission to investigate and draw lessons from the disaster.
One important change that the WHO members should make immediately is to accept Taiwan and stop giving in to China’s bullying that has wrongly kept the island’s government on the outside looking in. Taiwan has an exemplary story about response to the pandemic.
The coronavirus traversed the world. The response must be global as well. The United States gains nothing by retreating into a shell — especially when China is reaching out.