Trump’s WHO call will present Thai authorities with another problem as they still face the virus challenge and tricky efforts to restart and preserve the economy. Like nearly all ills that have afflicted Thailand since 2019, this is China-related. Over the weekend, Thai online netizens were waging an online media war with billions of Chinese communists to the north over the pandemic and hot political issues such as Hong Kong and Taiwan.
The decision by US President Donald Trump on Wednesday to cut funding to the World Health Organisation is an opening salvo in what will become a broader, deeper and jingoistic front. This will develop into an onslaught by the US administration on China for its role in causing the uncontrollable pandemic which has cut short tens of thousands of American lives. Thailand is moving to bring back its economy with an announcement on Wednesday that a decision will be made at the end of the month on the relaxation of shutdown measures. It is already facing the prospect of a world depression which may dwarf that of the 1930s as well as the direct economic impact of its own shutdown which industry leaders say could see 7 to 10 million jobs lost. Just as the trade war between China and the US deeply impacted Thailand’s economy, this new struggle will also have economic and political implications for the country. It has already begun online with millions of tweets and billions of views over the weekend as Chinese nationals attacked a Thai TV show actor and his model girlfriend for their political views.
Last week, the US ambassador met the Thai prime minister at Government House and talked up the prospects of a new more proactive trade relationship between the kingdom and its oldest western ally.
During Thailand’s dramatic contraction of exports in 2019, the United States emerged as the country’s leading export market overtaking China buying just over ฿1 trillion worth of Thai exports.
Chinese devaluation advised by the IMF in Beijing damaged Thai exports in Asia severely last year
It is also quite overlooked that one of the most aggravating factors that led to the baht being overvalued during 2019 particularly in the Asian market, a critical one for Thai farming exports, was a massive devaluation in China’s currency, the Yuan overnight by Chinese authorities in Beijing. This move, in August last year, condemned heavily by the United States, was suggested to Chinese economic planners by the IMF Office in Beijing, as a way to counteract tightening US trade restrictions.
The Head of Mission for the IMF in the Chinese capital said that US moves demanded ‘some kind of response’ and that the Chinese currency ‘should remain flexible and market-determined.’
Cost Thai farmers dearly
This action cost Thai farmers and exporters dearly and demonstrated a bias within global organisations towards China or at least their perception of it as the preordained engine of world economic growth which it is not.
The redressing of this perception and inbuilt bias has been the hallmark of the US President’s trade policies which are focused on bilateralism but with America at the centre.
It is the antithesis of what has been seen for the last thirty years and been accepted as global orthodoxy by economic planners, politicians and academics. This is why it is so stoutly resisted.
Thai Ministry of Commerce highlights new US-Japan trade pact to Thai exporters and businesses
This week, the Ministry of Commerce warned Thai exporters that a new bilateral US Japanese trade agreement was an opportunity for them not to be lost or ignored.
The ministry urged Thai firms to work harder at Japanese and American markets as this new trade deal presented a challenge as well as an opportunity.
This is because Trump’s trade policies are designed to make world trade less ‘China-centric’ and more ‘America-centric’.
Biggest challenge for Thailand now rolling down through the corridors of history with this virus
As well as reopening the Thai economy, it looks like the Thai government will not have much respite before this new perhaps biggest challenge of all comes rolling down the corridors of history.
There can be no mistaking this Chinese coronavirus is a historic and world-changing event.
The consequences in its aftermath will be real, hard-hitting and even more devastating perhaps than the virus itself.
US President Donald Trump freezes over 20% of WHO’s funding over its handling of the crisis
On Wednesday, US President Donald Trump ordered a freeze of US funding to the discredited World Health Organisation for its bungling of the coronavirus health crisis on a range of matters including poor judgment and medical assessments.
The controversial Director-General Tedros Adhanom, a former Communist Party member and guerrilla fighter, had already apologised for one lapse in January while the organisation has become mired in political conflict not least its aggressive and demanding attitude towards Taiwan.
It is an example of how far removed such international global organisations have become from ordinary people and national governments who as the crisis worsened, openly flouted its advice and guidance which would have led to the pandemic being even worse than it now is.
WHO’s advice on masks and aerosol spreading was wrong and the organisation’s responses too late
In Thailand for instance, the wearing of face masks is a strong example. The body did not recommend it.
It also insisted that claims the virus could be spread by aerosol factors were ‘fake news’ up to recent days. This must surely mean its advice must be treated warily and with scepticism. How many lives in Europe and the United States were lost by these mistakes?
The United States made similar mistakes but quickly rectified them and encouraged independent research across all its 50 states in competition with each other to find out more about the virus.
It is a prime example of the danger of the whole concept of ‘fake news’ aired often by the WHO.
On many days, it spent more time talking about that issue than the virus at its embarrassing press conferences. It simply did not want to hear contradictory or questioning opinions.
The emphasis of the organisation appeared to be on achieving a politically correct balance and consensus above the messy process of exploring unpleasant truths and saving lives.
World Health Organisation funded by 194 countries but the United States is the largest donor
However, the US administration is now acting against it because of its attitude towards the Chinese Communist Party which lied to its own people and the world for two valuable and priceless months at the outset of the world pandemic which has, so far, claimed over 126,000 lives worldwide and infected over 2 million people with more to come.
The World Health Organisation is funded by over 194 countries and spends between $4 billion and $5 billion per annum.
For the last five years, approximately 22% of its funding has come from the US in different types of payments.
Huge loss of life in the United States will spark a forceful response, this is only the start
Over 26,000 of these lives that have been lost are in the United States. The number keeps escalating.
Even the most sanguine observer must accept that the aftermath of this catastrophe is not going to be and indeed should not be business as usual.
There will be two targets in the crosshairs.
One will be China and the other will be global institutions and those with a global agenda.
This is the end of globalism and the beginning of a deeper commitment by all states to effective borders and self-reliance at least at times and in situations of emergency.
Serious implications for Thailand and its foreign policy in a more deeply divided world emerging
This will have serious repercussions for Thailand where the two governments led by Prime Minister Prayuth Chan ocha, despite the origin of the first from a coup in 2014, have worked at burnishing Thailand’s credentials on the world stage as a reliable global partner in particular since the March 24th election in 2019.
It has also been seen to be very close to China.
Predictable, on script response so far from supranational or global world leaders to Trump’s call
Wednesday’s announcement by President Trump has drawn a predictable response from high profile ‘global leaders’ in supranational institutions from Antonio Guterres, the United Nations Secretary-General to the European Union’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell who expressed ‘deep regret’ at the decision.
In November 2019, even before the Covid 19 crisis, Mr Guterres in Bangkok for the Asean summit, lamented that he saw a starkly divided world emerging which he said had the potential to develop into two separate world economies and even two different forms of the internet.
UN boss says WHO is critical to winning the war against the virus, says now is the wrong time to act
Mr Guterres particularly criticised the timing of Wednesday’s announcement by President Trump when he said: ‘It is my belief that the World Health Organisation must be supported, as it is absolutely critical to the world’s efforts to win the war against COVID-19. It is also not the time to reduce the resources for the operations of the World Health Organisation or any other humanitarian organisation in the fight against the virus.’
Trump has also cut to the bone funding to the United Nations and has threatened further action against that body over its political bias against the interest of the United States.
This has led to widespread cutbacks and cost-saving measures within the UN which is increasingly seen by the public in the US who support Trump and those who support the right-wing in Europe, as another discredited institution which is anti-western and ‘politically correct’, the term Trump employed today when explaining his WHO decision.
Bombshell to WHO leadership in Geneva
The US President’s decision will certainly come as a bombshell to the World Health Organisation in Geneva.
Trump had already targeted the global organisation before by cutting a budget proposed by the US State Department from $800 million.
It is still believed that the United States was responsible for at least $500 million per year in funding to the WHO and perhaps more in indirect supports or payments.
By comparison, China which today affirmed its support for the body, only contributes $40 million.
Cheered by US Republicans at home
The move by the US President has been wildly cheered by his base in the United States where his approval ratings are still high.
Many US Republican lawmakers have been calling for China to be held to account for its actions while US and UK intelligence agencies are unearthing more evidence suggesting the extent and nature of the Chinese Communist Party cover-up is vast.
This is seen by many as the root cause of this disaster.
‘We need to review their role in helping Communist China lie about the Coronavirus’ says senator
One US Senator, Senator Rick Scott from Florida, a long-standing ally of President Trump tweeted ‘Glad to see @realDonaldTrump halt funding to the @WHO. We need to review their role in helping Communist China lie about the #Coronavirus, before any more taxpayer money is spent.’
The US senator said he was looking forward a full congressional investigation into the cover-up by Chinese authorities at the outset of the pandemic and the role that the World Health Organisation played in screening Chinese authorities in those efforts.
Democratic senators and US doctors call for Donald Trump’s WHO decision to be reversed
However, across the aisles, Democratic Party senators labelled the US President’s move as ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dangerous’.
Senator Ben Cardin of Maryland criticised Trump’s actions as irrational and simply ‘the wrong thing to do.’
The President was also criticised by the American Medical Association who urged him to reconsider the decision.
’During the worst public health crisis in a century, halting funding to the World Health Organisation is a dangerous step in the wrong direction that will not make defeating COVID-19 easier,’ the President of the Association, Patrice A Harris warned.
Veteran US senator from Vermont compared it to cutting off ammunition to an ally in wartime
Veteran US Democratic Senator Patrick Leahy from Vermont compared President Trump’s decision to cut off ammunition to an ally during a war while John Yoo, a former Assistant Attorney General under George W Bush, applauded the move saying the World Health Organisation had ‘suppressed information about the outbreak’ and that the US should show it that it has failed.
He said the US President’s decision was the ‘right choice’ and called for the US administration to set up a new body or centre to coordinate a response between responsible allies during this pandemic.
He said that there was no need for the United States to worship at the altar of a failed international organisation any longer.
IMF warns the world is facing the greatest economic depression in history over the virus response
The move comes as the scale of the pandemic and its economic consequences are still growing.
The International Monetary Fund on Tuesday warned that the depression that the world may be facing could dwarf that of the 1930s.
The figures quoted by the institution also raised some eyebrows as they understated the level of economic contraction already accepted by the governments in France and the United Kingdom for their economies due to the lockdowns still underway.
Thai industry leaders warns that 7 to 10 million jobs could be axed from the economy permanently
Industry leaders in Thailand are telling the government that the shutdown and the corresponding sundering of economic activity with other countries including the closure of the Thai tourism sector could lead to between 7 million and 10 million Thai jobs being lost even if the shutdown is lifted.
The World Bank, in a hard-hitting report recently, has also warned Thai economic planners that the country faces another shock due to high levels of household debt and that it believes a proportion of Thailand’s ageing workforce simply may not bother with returning to work or may not have the funds after the disruption to the country’s economy.
Virulent and growing reaction to China’s role in covering up and concealing the virus which has killed over 126,000 people to date
The shock move by the US President feeds into a growing war of words appearing online in relation to China’s actions and its impact on other countries.
This has been particularly virulent in Thailand even though the kingdom has been spared the worst of the virus’s ravages albeit with a high economic cost and a steep bill to be paid by Thailand’s workers and the massive but hard-pressed self-employed sector.
On Wednesday, speaking to Reuters, Prajak Kongkirati of Bangkok’s Thammasat University talked of an international Twitter war of words raging online between communist party supporters in China and Thai online netizens after a Thai celebrity was attacked on social media after questioning China’s claim to the island of Taiwan which Beijing insists on regarding as a renegade province.
Thai celebrity and her boyfriend attacked by a huge mob of Chinese online users over their political views
The Thai celebrity was internet model Weeraya Sukaram who also tweeted that she believed that the killer virus originated in a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan near the now reopened ‘wet market’ where the outbreak was originally spawned according to Chinese official statements.
The opening of the wildlife and slaughter market only this week was given the green light also by the World Health Organisation in Geneva much to the consternation of other countries including Australia which criticised the decision.
Resourceful Chinese internet warriors then uncovered an old social media post by the model’s boyfriend Vachirawit Chivaaree that appeared to identify Hong Kong as a separate country.
A foretaste of the growing rift opening up on the other side- 4.6 billion views on Weibo in China
This all generated a gigantic social media reaction in China where the main social network is Weibo.
This should alert us to the depth and intensity of feeling on the other side of what is a growing political divide and to the danger that the world may be facing.
The model’s boyfriend, whose TV show was targeted by the Beijing mob with calls for boycotts, later apologised for the perceived political slight but to no avail.
The scale of the media reaction on the Chinese side can be seen from 4.6 billion views on the Weibo social network with 1.44 million posts.
Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong becomes involved in urging ‘freedom-loving Thai friends to fight Chinese ‘authoritarianism’
This show of force from across the Chinese border drew the attention of Joshua Wong, the young political activist at the fore of the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong which threatened to engulf the former British colony before the Covid 19 virus caused the now Chinese territory to be locked down. This was at the outset of the virus when it first spread outside China in February.
At the height of the protests which also turned violent after a landslide local election win for the pro-democracy side, many students took to the streets waving the flag of the United States.
At the time, US President Donald Trump threatened to veto a bill by congress supporting the students saying he was more interested in US trade with China than the furtherance of democracy in Hong Kong but finally relented as the law had overwhelming bipartisan support.
Mr Wong posted a picture of himself this weekend watching the Thai actor’s TV show and called for pan Asian solidarity against ‘authoritarianism’ from his ‘freedom-loving’ Thai friends.
Chinese Foreign Ministry statement plays up its positive relationship and partnership with Thailand
The dramatic and frantic activity online drew a firm rebuke from the Chinese Foreign Ministry in Beijing this week which highlighted its partnership and warm working relations with the Thai government.
It described the activities online as a ‘plot’ to stir up trouble.
‘Certain people use the opportunity to invite dispute on the internet, creating oppositions between public opinions, playing off China-Thailand relations, their plot shall not succeed,’ the ministry said in a statement to the Reuters News Agency.
This week, China sent protective anti-virus work clothing to Bangkok for the use of Thailand’s police and medical staff on the front line.