xi biden

A shock headline yesterday came from the World Health Organization, who told China it's time to shift away from its dynamic covid-zero policy.

"We don't think that it is sustainable considering the behaviour of the virus and what we now anticipate in the future," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. "We have discussed this issue with Chinese experts. And we indicated that the approach will not be sustainable... I think a shift would be very important."

Now that's something that everyone outside of China readily acknowledges, so what's the controversy?

Namely, it's that up until now, the WHO has developed a well-earned reputation as extremely deferential to China. The organization was attacked by Trump at the start of the pandemic.

"They're a puppet for China. Everything China does is OK," he said.

He even threatened to hold back funding because of the WHO repeatedly siding with China, even in strange circumstances.

"They are a pipe organ for China. So I'm going to make a decision very soon. I held back all funds. We held back almost USD 500 million from them. I'll make a decision, but think of it," he said.

"We're paying USD 450 million and China's paying USD 38 million, and yet China tells them what to do. How does that work?" he asked.

Why the sudden criticism

So while the comments about covid-zero yesterday weren't groundbreaking, the source was. The WHO is highly-respected and publicized in China.

However there was a sharp U-turn as the great firewall quickly went up, censoring Tedros' comments. Beijing officials also struck back, calling the comments "irresponsible".

"We hope the relevant individual can view Chinese COVID policy objectively and rationally and know the facts, instead of making irresponsible remarks," spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

Initially, I thought the idea might have been floated via China to give them cover for easing but that's now looking less likely.

A new theory

The whole world is growing tired of the China lockdowns. The seven-week halt in Shanghai life is snarling supply chains and will lead to another round of global inflation and shortages.

China is isolated in its fight to beat covid. There's a wide view in virtually every country outside of China that they're fighting a losing battle; that eventually they have to pivot and that it's better for everyone if it's sooner.

China has friends at the WHO but the whole world combined has much more influence and the US is still the kingmaker.

The US Democrats are on track to be routed in the midterms and a big reason why is inflation. Getting China up and running is existential for those politicians. So whether it's over $500m or it's for the greater good, the WHO has been pressured into lobbying against China's current policy.

I have to think that the White House played a part in it.

What makes me especially convinced is that at nearly the exact same time as Tedros' comment, Biden floated the idea of dropping US trade tariffs on China.

"We're discussing that right now," Biden told reporters after a speech about inflation. "I'm telling you, we're discussing it, and no decision has been made on it."

That's quite the coincidence.

My guess is that removing tariffs are the carrot, Tedros and/or broader criticisms are the stick.

I don't know if there's a deal to be made where the US drops tariffs in exchange for China dropping covid-zero, but that would certainly be a positive outcome for the global economy.