The United States announced additional foreign assistance funding Thursday to help 64 at-risk countries battle the COVID-19 global pandemic while welcoming “continued, no-strings-attached” contributions from other nations.
"Today, I am pleased to announce that the United States has made available nearly $274 million in emergency health and humanitarian funding,” U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said in a statement.
The $274 million in foreign aid includes $100 million that was announced in early February, $110 million in new international disaster assistance, and $64 million in humanitarian assistance for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist in its pandemic response efforts for some of the world’s most vulnerable populations.
The funding will “support countries by providing protective services, water, sanitation and hygiene, food security, livelihood assistance, and humanitarian response coordination in order to mitigate the broader economic stabilization and security effects of the outbreak,” said USAID Deputy Administrator Bonnie Glick in a telephone briefing Thursday afternoon.
Among the 64 most vulnerable nations that are facing the threat of the deadly virus are Afghanistan, Angola, Indonesia, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, South Africa, Tajikistan, the Philippines, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Burma, Cambodia, Ethiopia, the Kyrgyz Republic, Laos, Mongolia, Nepal, Nigeria, Pakistan, Thailand and Vietnam, according to Glick.
The U.S. government’s new pledges in foreign assistance came as China is stepping up its outreach to nations that are particularly hit hard by the pandemic. Planeloads of Chinese medical supplies, doctors and quarantine specialists have begun landing in European capitals almost daily, with governments of the hardest-hit countries, including Italy and Spain, openly welcoming China's help.
On Wednesday, Chinese President Xi Jinping told German Chancellor Angela Merkel in a phone call that China is ready to share "experience on COVID-19 control and treatment" with Germany while cooperating on “the research and development of the vaccines.”
“The Chinese Communist Party has a special responsibility to provide no-strings-attached assistance around the world and take responsibility for what everyone realizes is the result of the cover-up that happened in Wuhan,” said James Richardson, who is USAID director of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources.
The U.S. is the largest health and humanitarian donor in the world.
“The United States contributes close to 40 percent of the world’s global health assistance every year, nearly five times larger than the next donor, which is the UK, and 30 percent of the world’s humanitarian assistance,” Richardson said.
Thursday, the U.S. surpassed China and Italy to become the country with the highest number of confirmed coronavirus cases.
Senior American officials have expressed frustration at Beijing's unwillingness to cooperate and provide transparent information at the initial stage of the pandemic when it was still confined to China’s Hubei Province. The U.S. said China declined its offers of assistance.
Beijing was upset when the U.S. announced travel restrictions on people traveling from Hubei Province and China and was disturbed by Washington’s decision to evacuate the U.S. consulate in Wuhan.
“U.S.-China relations were on the decline long before the pandemic started. But it's really the mutual animosity that's only increased since the outbreak,” said Drew Thompson, a visiting senior research fellow at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy at the National University of Singapore.
"The threats to embargo the export of medical equipment from China to the U.S., including protective gear, and the war of words between government officials about the national origins of the virus, indicates that we probably have not yet found the floor of the bilateral relationship, and tensions are probably going to continue and potentially even get worse," Thompson told VOA.