China backs WHO probe into pandemic’s origin with conditions, blocks Taiwan’s presence at WHA

First day of the 73rd World Health Assembly (WHA) was straight out of the Chinese template – look like you agree and place conditions to make forward movement impossible.

While Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO), Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus welcomed the EU draft resolution, calling for a probe into the source of the coronavirus infection, the resolution, which has the backing of over 120 countries, in its current form does not spell out any timeline and that could be the window that Beijing was looking for.

“We welcome the proposed resolution before this Assembly which calls for a step-wise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation. So, I will initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned, and to make recommendations to improve national and global pandemic preparedness and response,” Tedros said.

With the numbers stacking up against China, President Xi Jinping said his country would support a “comprehensive review” of the Covid-19 pandemic but only after the outbreak has been brought under control.

Xi, speaking by video conference from Beijing, said, “All along, we have worked with openness, transparency and responsibility. We have provided information to the WHO and relevant countries in the most timely fashion.

Speaking to India Today TV, strategic affairs expert Brahma Chellaney explained, “Only when a majority of countries were in favour of an independent inquiry, did President Xi Jinping accept such an inquiry. But, he attached a condition that such an inquiry will take place only once the pandemic is under control. The WHO chief, who is China’s man, has ample room to delay the start of the inquiry. He may not declare that the pandemic is under control until then.”

Calling for an “impartial”, “independent”, and “comprehensive” evaluation to review lessons learnt from the WHO-coordinated response, as well as the “effectiveness” of mechanisms at its disposal – namely the 2005 International Health Regulations.

“OP9.10 Initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with Member States, a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, including using existing mechanisms, as appropriate, to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19, including (i) the effectiveness of the mechanisms at WHO’s disposal; (ii) the functioning of the IHR and the status of implementation of the relevant recommendations of the previous IHR Review Committees; (iii) WHO’s contribution to United Nations-wide efforts; and (iv) the actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic, and make recommendations to improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response capacity, including through strengthening, as appropriate, WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme;” the resolution read.

OP9.6 of the resolution also “requests” the Director General of WHO to continue work on origins or the “source” of the virus and its “transmission” to the “human population”.

“Continue to work closely with the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) and countries, as part of the One-Health Approach to identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts, including through efforts such as scientific and collaborative field missions, which will enable targeted interventions and a research agenda to reduce the risk of similar events as well as to provide guidance on how to prevent SARS-COV2 infection in animals and humans and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, as well as to reduce further risks of emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases;” the resolution reads.

Beyond this, there is no call for action or investigation that has been sought in the outbreak of such a deadly pandemic that has claimed over 3,00,00 lives and affected millions in around 213 countries and territories.

The other diplomatic war between the US and China that was fought at this forum was for the inclusion of Taiwan as an observer at the WHA. Beijing managed to keep Taipei out of this assembly but the newly elected President of WHA, Keva Bain announced adopting the proposal for the supplementary agenda seeking “inclusion of Taiwan to participate in the World Health Assembly as an observer”.

She said that it would be done in accordance with rule 12 of the rules of procedure which would first be considered by the general committee. Then the general committee would make a recommendation to the plenary on whether or not to include the proposed supplementary item on the agenda.

The recommendation would then be considered by the plenary.

“This proposal of mine to the plenary is based on my understanding of the outcome of informal consultations about concerned parties including of course the 14 member states who’ve submitted the request for the supplementary agenda item and my understanding that is support for my proposal and the way forward,” she asserted.

Her proposal was adopted unanimously without any objection. But, the Chinese government continues to maintain that Taiwan will have to adhere to the ‘One China policy’ for it to be considered for ‘observer status’ at the assembly.

Coming down heavily on the WHO DG, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused Tedros of taking instructions from Beijing and compromising the independence of the world body.

Condemning Taiwan’s exclusion from the World Health Assembly, he said in a statement, “WHO’s Director-General Tedros had every legal power and precedent to include Taiwan in WHA’s proceedings. Yet, he instead chose not to invite Taiwan under pressure from the People’s Republic of China (PRC). The Director-General’s lack of independence deprives the Assembly of Taiwan’s renowned scientific expertise on pandemic disease, and further damages the WHO’s credibility and effectiveness at a time when the world needs it the most.”

While the resumed session later this year will take up the proposal for reinstating Taiwan’s ‘observer status’, much will depend on what China does then when the heat of the pandemic over Beijing would in all probability have dissipated.

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