When the death, despair and devastation of this period of human history is finally transcribed from it’s many languages by pen to paper, one date will stand as a signalling post. Around this day historians will gather, to warm their hands and writing tools, to stoke it’s dying embers for the last burnt shards of information before casting their judgments on the folly of it’s message.
January 14th 2020 will be a controversial date for debate amongst this forensically hardy bunch. A timestamp that nudged the world down a path that has proven most difficult to turn away from.
History will find, I am certain, that the disease was already fully out of control at this stage. A footnote on one of the pages of the Irish historical record of this period might well be, Simon Coveney and Fine Gael’s decision, yesterday, to quadruple Ireland’s contributions to the World Health Organisation to 9.5 million euro for 2020. A most inconvenient statement of support at a critical geo-political time. A peculiar oddity even in the present sea of strange times.
The head scratching will not be around the support per se, but rather the moment of it’s announcement and the reckless nature in the timing of it’s choosing.
A signal perhaps of a man and a party with no electoral mandate getting mighty comfortable taking massive decisions both financial and geo-political – may or may not be recorded.
A coterie of second rate political decision makers holding first rate opinions of themselves and their place in the political world is an argument I hope at least one historian will have the time to luxuriate over.
But for now let us leave history to the recorders of time and return to the present day. The Coveney decision catapults Ireland into a geopolitical storm between the Chinese communist party and the United States. A communist regime, that I would contend, has it’s sights set on leaving it’s footprint on Ireland as a regional base to access the post apocalyptic EU market place and the wider western world. Our last English speaking competition in the arena, the UK, having already exited the European building.
Of course, Fine Gael do not present the WHO decision in anything like the terms above or what is to come below – I’ll grant them and you that, but clearly the Irish announcement is a repudiation of President Trump and the US decision to halt all funding to the WHO a day earlier. Simply put China and the US are at War – Luckily for the rest of us it isn’t a kinetic one – for the moment.
One of the battlefronts in this war is the WHO and it’s leader Dr Tedros.
It seems that in this erupting and shifting struggle between these two global Teutonic plates, Simon Coveney believes Ireland’s interests are best served by standing shoulder to shoulder with President XI of China and Dr Tedros of the W.H.O.
America is suffering a 9/11 catastrophe of deaths almost everyday, so when that fire is eventually controlled, I suspect the US will remember who it’s friends were during this period. 35,000 deaths and counting tends to scorch itself on to the brain cells. A friend in this time of need is a friend indeed – as the saying goes.
President Trump’s decision to put a hold on WHO funding, subject to review, triggered a firestorm of negative publicity in the mainstream media and from many politicians at home and abroad. I feel the criticism and Ireland’s action reveal a willful ignorance of what is going on in the world and in particular with the President of the United States and US administration.
Trump trusts that the decision will create a firestorm, I think at some level this is exactly what he wants and needs to happen when he makes the very big calls.
The furore creates a public smokescreen so that his White House administration can work quietly behind the scenes to quickly and aggressively wrest control of the WHO away from China and back towards the United States and it’s medical leadership. While journalists and opposing politicians focus on the temporary pleasure of dry ice.
The Trump tactics are used so often at this stage I wonder why they still work. That they still fool very bright minds. If the words Donald Trump trigger you – Guess what ? – he has won because he is getting you to respond with emotion rather than your logic. He is getting you to respond to the smokescreen. To the noise and not the signal.
The WHO decision as with the global trade deals he has negotiated with China, Canada and Mexico have one thing in common. It’s all stick at the beginning. This is quickly followed by, and usually very quickly, with lots of carrot once the bones of a deal is struck. Remember the Great Wall of Mexico ? and the inevitable destruction of the US/Mexico relationship that would ensue. Eh..Not quite the actual result.
President Trump has spent the last year public praising the current Mexican President and the two countries very easily got a renegotiation of the trade deal put to bed with Canada. Furthermore, in return Mexico have about 20,000 troops on the Mexican side of the US border patrolling it for illegal emigration. The US carrot is not just all happy talk either. In the current OPEC oil negotiations Trump went out of his way to go to bat for Mexican interests in this arena as they are not a power player amongst the czars of oil production. Mexico was the one country Trump was willing to make a US compromise for.
More often than not deals are struck in Trump world and the common tactic to kick them off is to remind people of who is holding the stick.
President Trump and most of the United States want Dr Tedros with his celebrity cheerleaders gone. He wants WHO decision-making to be less China centric. If he is going to be held to account for his decisions during this pandemic and he will be – he most certainly wants the people who landed this calamity on his doorstep to be held to account. So that’s China and the WHO. The question is do they have a case to answer. They most certainly do.
As much as the WHO have made mistakes, President Trump is also using the WHO to fight a proxy war with the Chinese Communist Party. He will get what he wants and it just so happens that on this occasion it is absolutely a decision that is good for the rest of the world too. Tedros has behaved shamefully with regards to China in my opinion.
If the Obama administration was an over correction for the Bush administration you can argue that the Trump administration is merely an over correction for the Obama administration. For the Obama years, the administration promised to be all things to all people, The fallout from two wars was a foreign diplomacy that seemed centered on an apology tour for the Bush years. Tied to this was a shrugging of the shoulders in relation to growing Chinese influence and the export of millions of american manufacturing jobs.
The result today is a President that is unapologetically American. In a crisis, in Trump world, diplomacy doesn’t come before – it comes after. Already Trump’s WHO tactic has started to pay dividends. Out of the blue, China has revised Wuhan’s fatality rate upwards by over 1,000 today. Still a fantasy number of course, but a good example that the bright lights of the American gaze works.
Simon Coveney might feel like a hero for quadrupling our contributions to 9.5 million euro and announcing it to the world but the United States contributions to the WHO run to the hundreds of millions a year. It’s not going to influence the final outcome of this proxy war other than to annoy the United States. When ironically an announcement in two months time would be met by US cheers.
US foreign direct investment runs to the hundreds of billions in this country over the last thirty years. I would remind him that the only sector of our current private sector that is in any way holding up and keeping people gainfully employed in coronavirus Ireland is the US multi-national manufacturing sector.
It is not a time to be pissing in the eye of the United States. For no actual benefit other than to exhibit our ignorance to what is really going on. And most particularly when you are a very temporary administration.
The situation will be resolved quickly between the US and the WHO. Behind the scenes. When that happens and I believe it will happen, is the ideal time for Simon Coveney to make his big splash and spend the 9.5 million we don’t have. Another case of trigger happy decision-making that hurts Irish interests.
Unfortunately, the fact is, this 9.5 million, given it’s reckless timing, is a de-facto endorsement of the Dr Tedros’s leadership of the WHO and the Chinese Communist party’s hiding of information. And I for one do not want a 4-fold increase of Irish money going to that organisation with Tedros continuing at the helm.
Yes, yes I am fully aware that we the people are in the middle of one the biggest health crisis’s in the history of the state. And that everyone is supposed to tow the party line. Questioning the decisions of State at the moment seems almost tantamount to treason or worse, the government implication, often slyly applied at press conferences, that public discourse and criticism is threatening the health of your fellow man.
History however, often tells us, that it is when questions are frowned upon that they are most fervently in need of the asking.
And besides I have only one simple question for Simon Coveney?
Does he support the continuation of Dr Tedros as Head of the World Health Organisation?
I want his answer recorded for history. Maybe Miriam O’Callaghan or Claire Byrne, people with enough gravitas, might ask him.
So lets examine Dr Tedros and the Chinese Communist Party. Maybe Trump has got them all wrong. To start let us cast an eye on the propaganda coming out of the Chinese embassy in Ireland as I write this piece.
Accusing the US and France of what they themselves are most grossly guilty of – hiding the truth. The fact is France and New York reported their full case load when they could find the time to catch up with the horrendous death toll. China did no such thing, they flat out lied about their numbers and continue to lie today. They look for a defence in the weakness of others. It’s disgusting.
At the risk of repeating myself, committing 9.5 million euros of Irish money to the WHO at this particular moment in time is tantamount to supporting a Chinese communist propaganda machine that Tedros has stamped as the official version. Clever guy that Tedros is, he has wasted little time stacking the Irish political chip on his side of the table for his own personal gain.
Most of us all support the World Health Organisation but most rational people will concede they have not performed well in the coronavirus pandemic. Particularly at the beginning when it was vital they were at their optimum best. When information that is transparent and honest saves lives and in this case thousands and thousands of lives. The WHO allowed the Chinese communist party to dictate the response in January and even more problematically the communication and information flows. They still do.
People say the timing is not appropriate given the needs of the pandemic response. My response is that by the end of this disease we will be encouraged to forget about how it started. That the optics of how things look are never more important than how things really are and shouldn’t be used as an excuse for not doing the right thing in the present.
Every important piece of information from the January period provided by the Chinese communist party and released to the world was heavily doctored.
Origin of the virus? – A lie.
Number of cases of the virus? – A lie.
Number of deaths from the virus? – A lie
Human to human transmission of the virus? – a lie – right up to the point where the lie could no longer be contained by further lies.
You see the world didn’t sit up and take notice of coronavirus or the more politically correct term COVID-19 until January 23rd, 9 days after the WHO released the tweet at the start of this piece. A date when China quarantined Wuhan and Hubei Province and put another 650 million people in lockdown around the country. As speedy as the coronavirus is – it still doesn’t move that fast from a standing start.
Even then, the world watched on as a seemingly non-involved bystander. Mostly because the spread, infection rates and death rates were heavily doctored or not reported at all. A regime that is currently lecturing the world on the need to work together – back in January – refused to let anyone in or let any one help.
On January 14th the WHO and Chinese communist party both knew what they were dealing with – but Tedros et al bowed to pressure from Beijing. That the W.H.O. put out supportive commentary to the total contrary of reality, in so public a manner, has had horrendous consequences for the world at large in the three short months that have past.
Which brings us neatly to Taiwan. Depending on your disposition, Taiwan is a country with a democratically elected government or merely a province of China. Alas, the WHO chooses to treat it as a province of China. Another mistake.
On December 31 2019 — Wuhan health officials announced the discovery of a viral pneumonia with “no clear evidence of human-to-human transmission”—Taiwan wrote to the WHO to request more information about the disease’s potential to pass between humans. That they indeed had different information and suspicions. Taiwan say that the WHO acknowledged receipt of the letter, but did not otherwise respond or share it with WHO member states.
Having tried to warn the world Taiwan took action anyway. Before nightfall on December 31, the country decided to begin health inspections for all passengers arriving on flights from Wuhan. Two weeks later—amid continued reassurances from Chinese and WHO officials that there was no need for alarm—Taiwan dispatched two of its own health experts to Wuhan, where guess what ? – they found significant evidence that the coronavirus was capable of human-to-human transmission. This virus, they reported on January 16, could be far more dangerous than initially assumed, noting that Wuhan’s local doctors were under no illusions of how danger the beast they were dealing with was to them.
It would be four more days before the Chinese government officially acknowledged that the virus could be transmitted between humans, on January 20. In the meantime, Wuhan had hosted a 40,000-household dinner to celebrate Lunar New Year and millions of people had left the city for the holiday, dispersing across the country at the worst possible time. And ultimately from this the coronavirus began it’s voyage around the world.
By the time Taiwan confirmed its first case of coronavirus, on January 21, the country was arguably more prepared than any other place in the world. Thanks to their own intuition if they had followed WHO guidelines a lot more Taiwanese would be dead today. It mobilized its Central Epidemic Command Center—a rapid-response department formed in the wake of the 2003 SARS outbreak—to implement quarantines and conduct drills at hospitals. Citizens were asked to stay calm and assured that they would all be able to buy surgical masks, as production of the masks was ramped up into millions per day. Soon after, Taiwanese masks were temporarily banned from export.
To cut a long story short, early intervention at this time has translated into a current picture for Taiwan that is rosy. I like to normally quote official stats from the WHO but unfortunately they have a history of refusing to publish Taiwanese stats or separate them from the Chinese numbers.
I understand that the W.H.O., like any global organisation must engage in political diplomacy from time to time, in order to get things done and that China is a particularly difficult task master, but it still begs the question why the W.H.O. ignored Taiwan’s submission regarding the coronavirus and went ahead and made that very public proclamation about the non human trans-missive nature of the virus. They had to know there was contrary evidence on January 14th. Did they place all their chips in the centre of the table betting on China’s ability to shut it down?
The cruelty for the world is this: Guess what country has one of the lowest infection and death rates in the world from coronavirus today?
Congratulations if you’ve guessed the island 100 miles east of China and separated from them by the blue seas of the Taiwan Straits. A country that had one of the first cases in the world too.
At last count and 3 months into the pandemic on their doorstep, Taiwan has 395 cases and 6 deaths. Like County Meath in other words – If Meath had 23.78 million residents and if indeed Meath had a lower death rate. Knowing thy enemy seems to have worked wonders for Taiwan. It should have been the same for the rest of the world.
Of course if you don’t believe my depiction of the Taiwan situation have a read of the Financial Times.
The following extract is taken from the Financial Times on March 20th 2020
” Taiwan has accused the World Health Organization of failing to communicate an early warning about transmission of the coronavirus between humans, slowing the global response to the pandemic. Health officials in Taipei said they alerted the WHO at the end of December about the risk of human-to-human transmission of the new virus but said its concerns were not passed on to other countries. Taiwan is excluded from the WHO because China, which claims it as part of its territory, demands that third countries and international bodies do not treat it in any way that resembles how independent states are treated “
Full Financial Times article here
Now, Taiwan is a particular inconvenience for the World Health Organisation. They refuse to recognise Taiwan as anything other than a province of China. Taiwan’s democratically elected President might beg to differ. As recently as three weeks ago a senior WHO official, Bruce Aylward, got hit with questions about Taiwan by a Hong Kong reporter.
The questions were obviously unexpected and he visibly freezes, his first instinct after that, was to seemingly to kill the Skype link and kill the Interview. But the interprid reporter persisted. Play below.
My Favorite soundbite.
Reporter: So how do you think Taiwan has done on the coronavirus?
Aylward: Well we’ve already talked about China….
As the coronavirus reaches the midpoint of its spring vacation in Europe we are beginning to understand how bloody marvellous the Taiwanese infection rates and containment have been. We are also beginning to understand how bloody miraculous the Chinese reported infection and death rates have also been. A little too miraculous I think you might agree.
We can say with some certainty now that patient zero in China was infected at the latest in early to mid December. The W.H.O. expect us to believe that a virus running wild in Hubei province for 5 – 6 weeks unchecked and unknown resulted in only 80,000 infections and just over 3,000 deaths.
The virus has been running wild in New York State for three weeks and has already killed 16,000 people in that State alone. If the WHO had any decency they would remove the Chinese statistics from their website.
I would argue that this combination of burying the truth about the coronavirus, restricting access to Wuhan from World health officials and under reporting the extent of the infection rate has cost thousands of lives in China and will cost hundreds of thousands around the world. I think Italians, for one, would have jumped up and paid attention a lot earlier if the daily numbers reported from China were 30,000 new infections a day as opposed to hundreds and maxing at a couple of thousand bar one day’s reporting.
Unfortunately most news cycle operate much like a twitter storm. And indeed social media is the main tool used to spread the gospel. I do it myself, but most stories, most ‘news’ – lives and dies by it’s first 15 minutes of life. It shouldn’t be this way. On occasion when a particular piece of mud sticks or rather clicks – a storm of ‘journalism’ ensues to follow it. Usually a brief one, until an inconvenient fact throws a spanner in works. And it’s on to the next gathering of mass hysteria and public cheerleading.
Twitter may rejoice at the commitment of 9.5 million euro at this exact moment in time. But if history remembers it at all, I fear it will be, because Ireland curiously championed Tedros and the Chinese communist party at the expense of the honest brokers to the world in Taiwan.
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Reporting from other publications like the Financial Times and the Nation have been sourced in production of this opinion piece.