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China supports investigation of WHO and coronavirus pandemic

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BEIJING, May 20, 2020, SCMP. Member states of the World Health Organisation, including China, backed a call on Tuesday for an independent investigation into the coronavirus pandemic that has killed more than 318,000 people around the world, South China Morning Post reported.

The resolution, which was drafted and promoted by the European Union but did not identify any country by name, called for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the pandemic, including the actions of the WHO.

At a virtual meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body, the World Health Assembly, the United States, which has accused the WHO of being a “puppet of China”, did not block the adoption of the resolution.

The US said that the resolution was the “first critical step” in ensuring the world health body could play its roles and that there was an international system capable of “responding effectively” to the next pandemic. But it also “dissociated” itself from the resolution’s statement on rights for poor countries to waive intellectual property rules in obtaining medicine in emergencies, Reuters reported.

Earlier on Tuesday, US President Donald Trump threatened to permanently freeze US funding to the WHO and reconsider his country’s membership if the United Nations agency did not commit to “major substantive improvements” within the next 30 days.

Meanwhile, the EU called on countries to unite to defeat the pandemic.

“The resolution also recalls the need for all of us to evaluate our performance,” the bloc said. “An independent investigation of how this pandemic started and spread will be important, as we will need to draw lessons from the current crisis to strengthen our global preparedness for the future.

“By working together, united and in solidarity, we will overcome this pandemic. Now is the time to work together. The health of each of us depends on the health of all of us.”

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said the resolution was in line with Beijing’s positions that countries should support the WHO and that the evaluation should be carried out at “appropriate time”.

“These are all consistent with China’s positions and also reflect the common wishes of the majority of countries in the world,” Zhao said. He also criticised Australia for pushing for an investigation into China’s handling of the outbreak.

The two-day gathering did not include discussions of a proposal for Taiwan to regain its observer status. Instead, the proposal will be considered by the UN General Committee and a recommendation will be made to the WHA body on whether to include the issue for the next WHA session later in the year, assembly president Keva Lorraine Bain said.

The proposal would almost certainly be met with opposition from Beijing, which has demanded the WHO not allow the self-ruled island to attend its annual assembly.

Liu Weidong, a specialist in international affairs at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said that after weeks of posturing by countries such as the US and Australia, Beijing’s cooperative approach at the gathering had softened criticism of China.

“China’s performance at this assembly and its stance, were open and very selfless,” Liu said. “China’s actions do make it seem that it is selflessly contributing to building a global community of health for all.”

He said US calls to trace the origins of Sars-CoV-2, the official name for the virus that causes Covid-19, were losing support.

“Everybody will realise the [US] criticised China and found fault with China due to internal politics, which is a very calculating behaviour. Not many countries may end up following [the US] because it will affect their own soft power,” he said.

“America’s international influence now compared to before Covid-19 has definitely fallen a lot.”

Mark Eccleston-Turner, a law lecturer specialising in global health at Britain’s Keele University, said any withdrawal by the US from the WHO would undermine the fight against the coronavirus, which requires an international effort.

“It’s important to look at America leaving the WHO as not just about money. It’s a huge blow to multilateralism, and in general not just multilateralism in the health space,” Eccleston-Turner said.
“Not just in terms of its funding ability, the US is a huge global player in international air travel, international commerce and also around the development of pharmaceuticals and interventions.”

He said that despite multiple discussions at the assembly around lessons to be learned, there was little concrete action from member states to address the key issues facing the WHO.

“The WHO remains critically underfunded, health systems around the globe lack the infrastructure to properly and promptly detect, prevent and respond to emerging and re-emerging infectious diseases, and states continue to ignore the laws and norms contained in the International Health Regulations,” he said.

Additional reporting by Stuart Lau

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