Pandemic Probe | Russia, Australia join growing support for coronavirus inquiry

Australia’s foreign minister yesterday welcomed international support for an independent investigation of the coronavirus pandemic, a proposed inquiry that has been condemned by China and blamed for a bilateral trade rift.
The European Union has drafted a resolution, cosponsored by a hundred countries including Russia and Australia, that has been gaining support and is expected to be approved in a vote at the World Health Assembly in Geneva this week. The resolution before the assembly, the decision-making body of the World Health Organization, calls for an evaluation of the origins of the pandemic and responses to it.
Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne said her government had been keen to ensure that the resolution stipulates the inquiry be “impartial, independent and comprehensive.”
“We’re very encouraged by the growing levels of support for this comprehensive World Health Assembly motion,” Payne told reporters. “We look forward to seeing hopefully a positive outcome later this week.”
Australia has been seen as a leader in rallying global support for such an inquiry, attracting Chinese criticism that it is parroting the United States and inviting a Chinese boycott of exports and services. Australian government critics have argued that Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative administration should have gathered allies before antagonizing Australia’s most important trading partner.
Payne did not see the level of international support for the inquiry as a win for Australia.
“It’s a win for the international community and Australia as a strong and active part of that international community would certainly see it that way,” Payne said.
The motion comes as Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham struggles to resolve a dispute with China over Australian beef imports.
Birmingham said that he had failed for six days to arrange to speak with is Chinese counterpart about China’s ban on meat from Australia’s four largest abattoirs over labeling issues.
Australia expects China will soon announce whether new tariffs will be placed on Australian barley, a crop China argues is subsidized by the Australian government.
Australia’s most lucrative exports to China — iron ore and coal — have not been affected by the dispute.
Birmingham said Australia was prepared to take China to the World Trade Organization over both the beef and barley issues.
“In the end, Australia uses the independent umpire where it’s appropriate,” Birmingham told Seven Network television.
“I hope China will come on board at the World Health Assembly, joining many, many other nations in supporting the obvious need for an inquiry into COVID-19, its origins, its handling right across the world,” he added.
The trade dispute is the first time Beijing has used access to its huge markets as leverage in its campaign to deflect blame for the outbreak. But it has used the tactic regularly against governments from Norway to Canada in political disputes over the past decade.
Chinese officials routinely refuse to confirm a trade disruption is related to a political clash but make it clear Beijing wants concessions.

Taiwan protests ‘two-faced behavior’
Taiwan will not press for participation at the World Health Assembly beginning today [Macau time], but will continue to donate medical supplies abroad and protest China’s “two-faced behavior” that excludes it from such forums, the island’s foreign minister said.
Joseph Wu told reporters the shortened agenda for this year’s WHA requires time be devoted to concentrating on ways to control the coronavirus pandemic. Taiwan agreed with suggestions that the issue of its participation be discussed instead at meetings later this year once the outbreak had been better contained, Wu said yesterday at a news conference.
“After careful deliberation, we have accepted the suggestion from our allies and like-minded nations to wait until the resumed session before further promoting our bid,” Wu said.
Taiwan’s United Nations seat was handed to China in 1971 and Beijing insists the self-governing island republic it claims as its own territory has no right to diplomatic relations or membership in U.N. bodies. Taiwan had been an observer at the WHA in past years when its relations with China were warmer, but China has taken a hard line since the 2016 election of independence-leaning Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. Taiwan insists China has never been authorized to represent it.
Wu said his ministry expressed “deep regret and strong dissatisfaction that the World Health Organization Secretariat has yielded to pressure from the Chinese government and continues to disregard the right to health of the 23 million people of Taiwan.”
Despite its exclusion from the WHO, Taiwan is working closely with the United States and many European countries to develop rapid testing kits, vaccines and medicines for COVID-19 and has donated 27.5 million face masks, 131 infrared thermal imaging cameras, 35,000 thermometers and 250 automatic body temperature detection systems to foreign countries, Wu said.
Plans call for the donation of another 23.5 million surgical masks, 1.16 million N95 masks, 170,000 protective gowns, 600,000 isolation gowns, 70 respirators, 34 PCR test devices, and 500,000 quinine tablets, Wu said. MDT/AP

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