Russia, China Say They Support WHO's Coronavirus Efforts Amid U.S Exit

Russia and China have voiced support for battling the novel coronavirus through the World Health Organization (WHO) on the day the United States officially left the international public health agency.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin and Chinese Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs Ma Zhaoxu spoke by telephone Tuesday in a conversation that gave special attention to crises in Syria and Yemen as well as "measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus infection with the central role of the World Health Organization," according to the Russian Foreign Ministry.

"The sides shared the opinion that sovereignty and territorial integrity of all U.N. member nations must be respected," the official readout stated. "They also agreed that the politicization of humanitarian problems and unilateral economic sanctions are inadmissible, especially amid the pandemic."

Moscow and Beijing have criticized Washington for freezing funds to the WHO in April amid accusations that it too readily accommodated the views of China's ruling Communist Party. President Donald Trump has since threatened to pull out of the organization altogether and, on Tuesday, Senator Bob Menendez tweeted that Congress had received notification of the U.S. exit.

"To call Trump's response to COVID chaotic & incoherent doesn't do it justice," the New Jersey Democrat wrote. "This won't protect American lives or interests—it leaves Americans sick & America alone."

WHO spokesperson Tarik Jasarevic confirmed to Newsweek that the organization had "received reports that the US has submitted formal notification to the UN Secretary General that it is withdrawing from WHO effective 6 July 2021" but said he could provide no further information at this stage.

trump, xi, china, russia, coronavirus
Cardboard figures of Chinese President Xi Jinping (R) wearing a face mask and U.S. President Donald Trump (L) stand in front of a souvenir shop in downtown Moscow on June 3. Trump has expressed criticism of rules requiring U.S. citizens, including himself, to wear protective face masks believed to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. DIMITAR DILKOFF/AFP/Getty Images

The WHO has repeatedly defended its work in regard to COVID-19 as impartial. In May, the organization approved an inquiry into the global response to the coronavirus outbreak as requested by the members of its forum, the World Health Assembly.

The Trump administration has called for a comprehensive probe both into the disease's outbreak and for widespread reforms to the WHO itself. U.S. officials have suggested the agency did not respond fast enough to the coronavirus to appease China, where the illness was first observed late last year in the central city of Wuhan.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus informed a press briefing last week that experts would soon send a team to China for a visit he said he hoped "will lead into understanding how the virus started and what we can do for the future to prepare."

Asked Tuesday about this visit, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian told a press conference in Beijing that "China believes that tracing the origin of the virus is a scientific matter that should be studied by scientists and medical professionals."

"China and the WHO have been in close communication and cooperation on source tracing since COVID-19 broke out, and Chinese scientists have also been discussing this with scientists in other countries," he added. "China will continue supporting scientists from all countries in researching the origin and transmission routes of the coronavirus."

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Fox News later that same day that "we know it started in Wuhan." He added: "We know it came from China. And yet they covered it up for an awfully long time."

Washington has sought to portray itself as a global leader in the fight against COVID-19, highlighting Thursday in a State Department readout that it has devoted $12.5 billion to the international campaign against the disease.

Beijing has sought to highlight its anti-pandemic efforts around the world. China has pledged up to an additional $50 billion to the WHO since March and Chinese President Xi Jinping vowed to contribute up to $2 billion to global efforts to battle COVID-19 during his remarks to the World Health Assembly in May.

In some cases such as in France, Italy and Spain, Russia assisted in the delivery of such goods. While Russia has long surpassed China in the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases at nearly 700,000, the U.S. is by far the worst-hit country, nearing 3 million of the world's roughly 11.7 million cases.

The Trump administration's decision to quit the WHO follows a pattern of shunning international agreements and institutions over the past three years. Since Trump took office in early 2017, the U.S. moved to exit the U.N. Human Rights Council, the U.N. Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty, the Paris Climate Agreement and the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (better know as JCPOA or the Iran nuclear deal) as well as bilateral agreements like the Intermediate-Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty and the Open-Skies Treaty with Russia.

countries, most, coronavirus, covid-19, cases
A graphic provided by Statista shows the top ten countries with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of July 6. Statista

The above graphic was provided by Statista.