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COVAX in trouble? - Interpeace's Paradigm Change - The Long-Arm of China

This article is a republished version of our newsletter briefing sent out on Tuesday December 15, 2020. Sign up to our newsletter to get our content the moment it's published, straight in your inbox.



December 15, 2020

Is Dr Tedros fatigue now settling in? We come back to a WHO virtual meeting held last Saturday (December 12) with donors to discuss the financing of the COVAX, the facility designed to ensure a quick, fair and safe access to COVID-19 vaccines. That meeting didn’t go so well, as no money was committed by governments, with a few limited exceptions. Geneva Observer contributors Jamil Chade and John Zarocostas look at why they were not forthcoming. The increased economic strain imposed by the pandemic on high-income countries is undoubtedly part of the explanation. But we are also picking up signals of frustration by some Western countries about what they consider a lack of transparency at the very top of the WHO. Uncovered by Italian public-broadcaster RAI’s investigative program “REPORT”, the recent revelations–now picked-up elsewhere– about the circumstances of a WHO study in what appears to be political bargaining on a grand scale certainly doesn’t help. “Tedros does what he wants and does it in his own way, sometimes he’s brilliant, sometimes, his initiatives are half-baked. He can be unpredictable,” a source familiar with his modus operandi told the G|O under cover of anonymity.

©Daniel Schludi via Unsplash

Also on The G|O website today, yet another look at China’s presence in Switzerland with revelations about a little-known network active in our country, the United Front.


The year 2020 may end without WHO having pooled the financial resources to allow its vaccine distribution plan to be guaranteed. In addition to the lack of money, the health agency is conducting parallel projects which undermine its ability to entirely focus on COVAX. For 2020, WHO still needs US$ 5 billion and, for 2021, the organization is short of the total US$ 23 billion needed to implement the project, jeopardizing the effort to distribute the vaccines in poor countries. COVAX/ACT’s goal is to buy and distribute 2 billion doses to developing countries by the end of next year. Following Saturday’s meeting, Bruce Aylward, special representative of the DG on ACT Accelerator, claims that the main obstacle today is the struggle of each country to find fiscal room to contribute to the mechanisms. For the last couple of weeks, governments and WHO have been working in order to build financial instruments that could be used. The agency is also concerned that earmarked development funds (ODA) could be diverted to meet the objectives of COVAX. Asked about why countries are holding back on funding multilateral initiatives (like WHO initiatives over COVID-19 vaccines, therapeutics, and diagnostics), one senior international official, speaking on condition of non-attribution, told The GIO: "Unfortunately the multilateral organizations are the first ones to get cuts in funding as they do not have a political constituency." The massive borrowing by governments to deal with the worldwide health and economic crises triggered by the pandemic make it difficult for donor nations to secure the badly needed extra funds, experts said.

Indeed, a review of the latest estimates by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) shows the huge amount of borrowing by advanced economies this year. Government borrowings by the G7 advanced nations as a percentage of GDP this year will be -16.2 percent, up from a -4.2 percent increase in 2019. And for the Euro area alone, the increase will be equivalent to nearly -10 percent of GDP, up from -0.6 the year before, the IMF data reveal. Similarly, economic data by the Paris-based OECD indicate that for the US, General Gross Government Financial Liabilities as a percentage of GDP are expected to reach 127.9 % of GDP, up sharply from 108.3 % in 2019; France, 141.9%, up from 124.3%; U.K. 145.2%, up from 117.3% Germany 82.4%, up from 68.1%, and for Japan to spike to 241.5%, up from 225.2%.

PLAN UNDERMINED But the budget gap goes beyond the single issue of money. There is a tangible dissatisfaction of donor countries with WHO's position in support of India, as well as South Africa's proposal to guarantee a waiver to patent enforcement currently being discussed at the WTO. Some countries, opposed to the waiver, consider that supporting the idea is not the WHO’s decision to make but its member states’. The lack of a clear vision on the WHO’s planned reform at this point accounts for the timidity on the part of the donors, several sources told The G|O, saying many want to know what the fate of the WHO will be before committing to submit more money. An EU initiative is also complicating the matter. Brussels is considering donating 5% of the COVID-19 vaccines it has collectively secured to poorer nations, the equivalent of about 65 millions doses. The move risks undermining COVAX and is being interpreted by some observers as a deliberate blow to WHO in a long-term political strategy. According to people familiar with the move, by reclaiming the initiative, the EU might already be planning for a transition at the top of the health agency. The tensions between the EU and WHO could pave the way for a real political dispute in view of the 2022 nomination, when Tedros could seek a second term. But seen by many as too close to China, and with the confidence in the US shaken despite President-elect Biden’s willingness to reengage with the WHO, it appears the EU wants guarantees from its partners that the new director will be a European. The Irish Mike Ryan, director of operations, whom Tedros refers to as "general", has been applauded for his management.


THE LONG-ARM OF CHINA Beijing’s long-arm at the UN is by now well-documented. In part, it represents the shifting of the global centers of power and Beijing’s attempt to legitimize its multilateral engagement, while downplaying by a confrontational diplomacy the most disturbing aspects of its increasingly repressive regime. But Beijing also relies on discreet and downright obscure organizations and entities to further its influence. Ralph Weber, Professor of European Global Studies and a Chinese expert at the University of Basel, has been looking into the presence in Switzerland of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) controlled United Front. “The United Front is a top priority of the regime. Xi Jinping has vamped up the United Front considerably in terms of scope, resources (budget, personnel), and importance,” writes Professor Weber in his piece on The G|O website. While stressing that the United Front’s activities are perfectly legal, he writes that “pronouncements of the Chinese party-state tend to normalize the PRC as a trustworthy and responsible world leader. Geneva, with its many multilateral organizations, has increasingly witnessed the PRC’s self-fashioning as a global norm-entrepreneur, while it seeks to undermine the international law and human rights regime and dominate the discourse on international technical standards.”

His words echo the 2020 Security Report of the Federal Intelligence Service (FIS) who when writing about China states: “Second to Russia, China’s espionage activities also represent a significant threat to Switzerland. The activity of Chinese intelligence services is evident in the stationing of intelligence officers not only under diplomatic cover, but also and in particular under non-official cover, such as officers who pose as researchers, students, tourists or businesspeople. For China, espionage is a key element for internal stability, economic growth and the development of its defence capabilities.”

In light of this assessment, it appears that the now-expired highly controversial “arrangement” between China and Switzerland about which we reported earlier will face increased scrutiny by the Swiss Parliament when it comes up for review and possible extension.

Click on the image to access the report

Elsewhere in the ecosystem:

“Everything you do without me, you do against me,” a humanitarian worker told us a few months back as he was describing what he saw as plain wrong in the top-down approach of most of the relief agencies.

Geneva-based international organization Interpeace has heeded the message. “Our current approach to peacemaking is not sufficient. We have to do things differently. We have to move beyond top-down approaches that use the same toolbox that treats every country the same and hoping for the best,” says Bert Koenders. Interpeace announced today its Principles for Peace, “A groundbreaking global and collaborative initiative to develop principles, standards and norms that will guide international, national, and local approaches to building lasting peace.” A former Dutch minister and UN Special representative in Côte d’Ivoire and Mali, Koenders is a member of the “International Commission on Inclusive Peace,” newly created to “address the shortcomings of contemporary approaches to building peace and reframe peacemaking and peacebuilding for the 21st century.”

According to Interpeace, the work of the International Commission will be anchored in a bottom-up process that engages hundreds of thousands of people with lived experience of conflict and peace processes.

Said Scott Weber, Interpeace President: “Contemporary peace processes are not fit-for-purpose. Bringing hostilities to an end by rewarding those who have been violent with a share of power, is both insufficient and at times counterproductive. Peace processes must focus on building trust, laying the foundations for broadly legitimate institutions and a social contract between citizens and their States.”


For today's G|O Briefing: Philippe Mottaz @pmottaz / Jamil Chade @JamilChade, John Zarocostas @jzarocostas, Paige Holt @PaigeHolt_gva, Anna Schultz

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