Coronavirus crisis: Xi praises WHO's role after Trump accuses health agency of siding with Beijing

K J M Varma and Lalit K Jha

Beijing/Washington, Mar 26 (PTI) The war of words between the US and China over the origins of the deadly coronavirus has extended to the WHO as Chinese President Xi Jinping praised its role in advancing global battle against COVID-19 amid his American counterpart Donald Trump's criticism that the UN health agency sided with Beijing and people are unhappy with its position.

President Xi on Thursday appreciated the World Health Organisation (WHO) Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus' efforts to advance the global battle against the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a reply letter to Ghebreyesus, Xi said China will continue to provide support for the international community in combating the coronavirus disease.

Under Ghebreyesus' leadership, the WHO has been actively advancing global cooperation against the contagious illness and gained wide recognition from the international community, Xi said.

China, he added, will continue to firmly support Ghebreyesus and the WHO in playing an active and leading role in the global fight against the pandemic.

China has also contributed USD 20 million to WHO for its fight against COVID-19 in different countries.

Xi’s praise of WHO and Ghebreyesus' leadership came after Trump said the UN health body has 'very much sided' with China on the coronavirus crisis and claimed that many are unhappy with the 'very unfair' praise by the agency on Beijing's handling of the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.

President Trump was responding to a question on allegations by Republican Senator Marco Rubio that the WHO showed 'favouritism' to China where the disease originated.

Congressman Michael McCaul, ranking member on the House Foreign Relations Committee, has questioned the integrity of the WHO's Director-General, saying 'that there were several red flags in his past with respect to his relationship with China.' 'It (WHO) has been very very much sided with China. A lot of people are not happy about it,' Trump told reporters at a White House news conference on Wednesday.

Trump was asked if he agreed that the WHO showed favouritism and the US should re-explore its relationship with the Geneva-based UN health agency once the dust settles.

'I think there is certainly a lot of talk that it's been very unfair. I think that a lot of people feel that it's been very unfair,' Trump replied.

In a tweet Congressman Greg Steube alleged that the WHO has been a mouthpiece for China during the coronavirus pandemic.

Both the WHO and China must face consequences once this pandemic is under control, he demanded.

Senator Josh Hawley echoed Steube's view and demanded the same.

'There need to be consequences here. WHO has sided with China Communist Party against the world in this pandemic,' he said in another tweet.

WHO chief has faced criticism for praising China's leadership for its 'determination to end the new coronavirus outbreak'.

He has also been accused of conspiring with Beijing in its 'propaganda' to hush-up coronavirus cases.

Ghebreyesus had gone to China in January to meet President Xi and a WHO team comprising of international health experts was working in the country.

'Today I met with Xi Jinping, President of China, in Beijing to discuss next steps in battle against the new coronavirus outbreak. WHO appreciates the seriousness with which China is taking this outbreak & the transparency authorities have demonstrated,' he had said in a tweet after his meeting with Xi.

'Just back from China where I held frank talks with President Xi Jinping, who has taken charge of a monumental national response to the coronavirus outbreak. Based on cooperation & solidarity, China has committed to protecting its citizens & all people globally from the outbreak,' he said in another tweet.

Subsequently, WHO sent a team of experts to Beijing, Guangzhou and the virus epicentre Wuhan. The team included a specialist from the US.

The team coordinator, Bruce Aylward, a Canadian epidemiologist, also heaped praise on China for handling the crisis.

The US-China spat came as Trump has termed COVID-19, Chinese virus, which Beijing refuted saying that it amounted stigmatisation.

Globally, the death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 21,293 with more than 471,518 cases reported in over 170 countries and territories, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

Although the epicentres Hubei province and its capital Wuhan have been reporting zero cases for a while, death toll there continued to rise.

On Wednesday, six deaths were reported from Hubei province, taking the death toll in China to 3,287 people and total number of cases to 81,285.

In Hubei and Wuhan alone as of Wednesday 3,169 people died since January. The virus was first reported in Wuhan in December last year.

According to WHO, China has reported 81,869 confirmed COVID-19 cases and 3,287 deaths. PTI KJV LKJ MRJ AKJ ZH ZH