As the decision-making body of the World Health Organization(WHO), the 73rd annual session of the World Health Assembly convened on Monday in Geneva, Switzerland. The two-day conference was held virtually as a result of the pandemic. At the session, 116 nations of the 194 member states supported a resolution proposed by Australia calling for an international investigation into China’s role in the coronavirus pandemic.
First reported in Australia’s Daily Telegraph, it is clear that despite the resolution is a positive move towards addressing concerns, though some experts expressed reservations concerning the investigation. The resolution does not explicitly call for an investigation into the origins of the virus, rather asking to examine the “actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic.”
“Initiate, at the earliest appropriate moment, and in consultation with member states, a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation,” the resolution read. “To review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19.”
Perhaps most disturbing is that the resolution does not specifically name China as the focus of the investigation but it is widely assumed that the investigation will center around China.
The Trump administration claims that the pandemic was the result of the naturally occurring novel coronavirus which was being researched at the Wuhan Virology Institute escaping from the lab. China has countered by pushing a conspiracy theory claiming that the virus may have been introduced into its territory by the US military.
The resolution also does not set out a specific method for an inquiry, suggesting using “existing mechanisms” for review as an option. The review would then make recommendations to “improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response capacity”.
World Health Organisation director-general Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus was tasked with overseeing the investigation despite him and his organization being the focus of much criticism claiming they facilitated China’s deceptions. The WHO echoes China’s initial claim that the virus was not transferred between humans. The WHO also recommended that borders be kept open.
A recent report by the Centra Intelligence Agency (CIA) titled “U.N.-China: WHO Mindful But Not Beholden to China,” claims that in January after it was clear the novel coronavirus epidemic that began in Wuhan was becoming a pandemic, the Chinese government began stockpiling medical supplies from other countries, pressuring the World Health Organization (WHO) to delay declaring a global health emergency in order to facilitate stockpiling.
The resolution also called for a universal and egalitarian response, calling for “the universal, timely and equitable access to and fair distribution of all quality, safe, efficacious and affordable essential health technologies and products including their components and precursors required in the response to the Covid-19 pandemic as a global priority.”
The WHO has also been criticized for its handling of previous pandemics and Dr. Ghebreyesus has been accused of mishandling epidemics when heading the health ministry of his native Ethiopia. The accusations against Dr. Ghebreyesus include corruption and ties to violent regimes.
China came out in support of the resolution. China’s president, Xi Jinping, addressed the conference by video.
“All along we have acted with openness, transparency, and responsibility,” Xi said.
After Australia began calling for the investigation last month, China responded with economic sanctions including massive tariffs on Australian barley and blocked some Australia meat imports.
The COVID-19 battleground extends beyond the international conference arena. The “Justice for Victims of COVID-19 Act” announced in Congress in mid-April would effectively strip China of its immunity and permit US citizens to sue the Chinese government for suppressing and misrepresenting COVID-19 information. At least six lawsuits have been filed against China in US federal courts seeking more than $20 trillion in damages.
China responded by putting at least four US Congress members, and two “entities” on its sanctions list.
The COVID-19 conflict with China may also affect the upcoming US presidential elections. Trump is clearly taking a hardline with China. Biden has been critical of this position, even criticizing Trump’s initial travel ban as being motivated by racism. Biden has also been accused of cultivating business opportunities for his son, Hunter, while on an official trip to China in 2013 as Vice President. Hunter Biden was forming a Chinese private equity fund and the Chinese business license that brought the new fund into existence was issued by Shanghai authorities 10 days after the trip, with Hunter Biden a member of the board. If the WHO investigation finds China to be culpable, it will be interesting to see if Biden calls them out for their sins.