The World Health Organization (WHO) has agreed to hold an inquiry into the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, adopting a resolution a summit that has been overshadowed by President Donald Trump’s threat to permanently cut US funding to the agency.
WHO member states adopted the proposal with no objections during the World Health Assembly meeting on Tuesday, after the European Union and Australia led calls for an investigation.
The part of the resolution that had been considered contentious called for “a stepwise process of impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” at “the earliest appropriate moment,” with the purpose “to review experience gained and lessons learned from the WHO-coordinated international health response to Covid-19.”
The resolution did not single out any individual country, but a number of nations – including the US – have accused Beijing of withholding information about the virus, which was first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in late 2019.
The US has accused China of withholding information about the virus, while Beijing has responded by defending its handling of the outbreak.
Chinese President Xi Jinping said Monday that he supports calls for an investigation into the handling of the pandemic, but insisted that any inquiry should wait until the virus is contained.
Any investigation that pins blame on Beijing could deal a severe blow to China’s global standing.
Xi defended his country’s actions via video conference. “All along we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility, we have provided information to the WHO and relevant countries in the most timely fashion, we have released the genome sequence at the earliest possible time, we have shared control and treatment experiences with the world without reservation, we have done everything in our power to support and assist countries in need,” he said.
Beijing had reacted angrily to Australia’s earlier calls for an investigation, accusing Canberra of a “highly irresponsible” move that could “disrupt international cooperation in fighting the pandemic and goes against people’s shared aspiration.”
Trump threat hangs over summit
The WHO’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus affirmed his commitment to “transparency, accountability and continuous improvement” when he addressed the virtual summit on Tuesday.
But the meeting came at a critical time for the agency, with Trump leading a charge against it by threatening to pull funding or even suspend the United States’ membership.
Trump accused the organization on Monday of “political gamesmanship” for praising China’s strict domestic travel restrictions while being “inexplicably against my closing of the United States border.”
Responding to that threat, other world leaders repeatedly highlighted the significance of the WHO’s work in fighting the pandemic. The EU said on Tuesday that “this is the time for solidarity, it is not the time for finger pointing or undermining multilateral cooperation.”
“This pandemic has highlighted our vulnerability and made it clear that we need one another,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez added at the summit. “That’s why more than ever we must be united,” he added.
Trump’s criticisms have nonetheless highlighted the allegations made by some critics that the WHO has been too deferential to China over the course of the coronavirus outbreak.
Observers often point to Taiwan’s lack of membership as evidence for that charge, and the issue was again broached on Tuesday when China said the continued advocacy for Taiwan’s involvement by a few countries undermines global epidemic efforts.
Chinese Ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva Chen Xu said those countries which are “determined to plead for the Taiwan authorities” at the WHO are violating United Nations and WHO resolutions.
Taiwan is a self-governing democratic island which has never been ruled by the government of the People’s Republic, but is claimed by Beijing as part of its territory.
CNN’s Carly Walsh contributed reporting.