20/05/2020 7:50 PM IST

Why China Co-Sponsored WHO Resolution To Investigate Coronavirus Response

Experts say that while the resolution gives a clear advantage to China, it's too early for the country to declare victory.

Xinhua News Agency via Getty Images
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly via video link in Beijing, May 18, 2020.

On Tuesday, member states of the World Health Organisation (WHO) unanimously passed a resolution calling for an independent “comprehensive evaluation” of the global response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

The resolution did not name any country, but called on the director-general to initiate “at the earliest appropriate moment” an evaluation that would “review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19”.

In a not-entirely-unexpected move, China, which has been facing backlash and calls for a probe into the origins of the coronavirus, co-sponsored the resolution. In a press briefing on Tuesday, China’s Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said that the text of the current draft resolution unequivocally affirms and supports WHO’s leading role and the proposals are in line with China’s position. 

Tuesday’s resolution, according to Reuters, also calls for a review into how the novel coronavirus spread after making the jump from animals to humans. WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus had on Monday agreed to initiate an independent review. 

“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,” he had said. 

Jabin Thomas Jacob, associate professor at the Department of International Relations and Governance Studies of Shiv Nadar University (SNU), told HuffPost India that the resolution did not pin any blame on China, giving it a clear advantage.

″(The resolution) is open-ended about where the virus originated and this allows China to continue its disinformation campaign to paint the US, France or whatever country it chooses as the point of origin of the virus,” he said.

Ever since reports emerged of cases being identified earlier than previously thought from countries such as France and Italy, China has been calling for an “apolitical” probe into them. 

Meanwhile, China has cautioned Australia, which asked for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus, against looking at the resolution as a vindication. China insists that the resolution is totally different from Australia’s proposal of an independent international review. 

“The draft resolution calls for an evaluation of experience gained and lessons learnt from the WHO-coordinated international health response, rather than an inquiry based on the presumption of guilt targeting any country. We hope Australia will read the text carefully instead of making conclusions based on assumptions,” China’s foreign ministry said in a press briefing. 

China’s state-run Global Times cited experts as saying that the consensus on the resolution “rejected political bias led by some Western politicians, and major proposals highlighted by the resolution are in line with the consistent position of the Chinese side, which some Chinese analysts said could be seen as a diplomatic victory for Beijing.”

Jacob said the resolution is more or less in line with China’s position in that it prevents specific actions with respect to China. “But the resolution also ensures there is greater scrutiny of an international body like the WHO and ensures over the long run that Chinese influence in other international organisations is also watched closely and checked.”

He said that it is, therefore, too early for China to declare victory or to imagine that countries seeking accountability from China have lost. 

While US President Donald Trump has threatened to cut off funding of the WHO after calling it a “puppet” of China, Beijing has consistently praised the WHO’s handling of the pandemic and urged other countries to support the international body. 

At the opening of the World Health Assembly, President Xi Jinping said, “at this crucial juncture, to support WHO is to support international cooperation and the battle for saving lives as well. China calls on the international community to increase political and financial support for WHO so as to mobilise resources worldwide to defeat the virus.”

Critics have said that the WHO has been “too trusting” of the Chinese government, which has been accused of mishandling its initial response to the outbreak in Wuhan.

What Chinese media said

State-run Global Times quoted analysts as saying that the resolution is a “slap on the face” to countries like Australia, and that its calls for an independent probe into China have been rejected by the international community. 

Global Times editorial on Tuesday also said that “under the US’ instigation, Australia promoted an independent inquiry of China’s handling of Covid-19. But when the assembly started, the draft resolution was about the WHO-led tracing of the origin of the virus, and did not specifically target any country.”

Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne had called for an inquiry and said she did not think the WHO should run it. Talking to ABC Insiders last month, she said Australia did share specific concerns about the WHO that the US has identified. 

“I’m not sure that you can have the health organisation which has been responsible for disseminating much of the international communications material and doing much of the early engagement and investigative work, also as the review mechanism. That strikes me as a bit poacher and gamekeeper,” she was quoted as saying.