Matthew Pottinger, a deputy national security adviser under Trump, has said China had consistently blocked the release of information about the COVID pandemic in a manner “worse” than that of two decades ago with the 2002 SARS outbreak.
Speaking at a forum in Taipei, Pottinger made the comment while pitching a coalition of the G-7 industrialized democracies plus India, Australia, South Korea, Brazil and Taiwan to counteract the weaknesses of the WHO, which is set up primarily to deal with problems that require longer-term, slower-moving solutions.
“[We] need an international group, focused first on the backbone of core democratic societies, that can respond quickly and share information quickly and help in the international response to new outbreaks,” he said.
The proposed coalition would also draw up a response “to address those countries that are not living up to the most basic humanist principles to share information and take steps to protect other nations.”
Contrasting them with China, Pottinger said democracies specifically are best placed to provide transparent, good-quality data that could be useful to the new organization.
Pottinger also emphasized the flexibility of elected officials, such as those who had chosen to back closing borders where initially public health advisors had said it would be ineffective.
He added that the decision to fund all types of vaccine trials — against health officials’ advice to only back known entities — had resulted in the production of mRNA vaccines, now thought to be the most effective.
More controversially, he also mentioned public health officials’ early advice that mask-wearing for the general public would not work.
Numerous elected officials in the U.S. also spoke out against mask wearing during the pandemic, including former president Donald Trump.
Meshing the two sides of his argument for liberal democracy against Chinese authoritarianism, Pottinger stressed that U.S. political actors had had an advantage over U.S. public health officials earlier in the pandemic because of their skepticism around China.
“Many people, particularly on the national security side, were most attuned to how bad this could be precisely because we knew best precisely the nature of the Chinese Communist regime and what their pattern of behavior is. So we were the first ones to be skeptical of the information that the Chinese government was passing to the WHO,” he said.
Pottinger was speaking at “The Origin and Management of COVID-19: Views from the U.S. Front Line” forum hosted by the Center for Asia-Pacific Resilience and Innovation (CAPRI) and the University of Virginia’s Miller Center of Public Affairs on Wednesday, January 11.