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European Union backs international inquiry into origins of coronavirus outbreak

By Stuart Lau, South China Morning Post

THE European Union has called for a worldwide investigation into the origins and spread of Covid-19 in a move its foreign policy chief described as “standing aside from the battlefield between China and the US”.

The EU said the bloc and its 27 member states would co-sponsor a draft resolution calling for an “independent review” into the novel coronavirus that causes the disease when the World Health Assembly convenes for a virtual meeting on May 18.

The meeting of the World Health Organisation’s decision-making body is shaping up as a test of China’s diplomatic standing in the wake of the pandemic.

In addition to calls for an independent investigation, nations such as the US are also pushing to reinstate Taiwan – which Beijing views as a renegade province – as an observer to the assembly.

China has so far not committed to an international probe, saying it would be a “blame game” that targets Beijing, even though China has repeatedly pledged support for the WHO.

The US has said it is going to halt funding to the United Nations body, with President Donald Trump accusing it of having “China-centric” leanings.

The Trump administration has also stepped up calls for an investigation into whether the coronavirus that causes Covid-19 – which has killed more than 250,000 people around the world – originated from the Wuhan Institute of Virology.

Scientists have said there is so far no evidence linking the biosecurity lab in Wuhan as the cause of the outbreak.

Consultations with WHO members and regional groups on the EU draft resolution are continuing this week in Geneva, the EU says, adding that “initial comments on the draft are very positive.”

“The draft resolution envisages calling for an independent review on lessons learned from the international health response to the coronavirus, to strengthen future global health security preparedness,” said Virginie Battu-Henriksson, the EU’s spokesperson for foreign affairs.

“A thorough understanding of the epidemiology of the coronavirus pandemic is essential for public authorities to make informed decisions,” she added.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has also called for an investigation into China’s role in the pandemic, praised the EU’s actions.

“What’s really important is that we have a proper review, an independent review which looks into the sources of these things in a transparent way,” Morrison said on Tuesday.

The inquiry would help the world deal with the emergence of the next virus that has “pandemic potential”, he said, adding that his nation’s health experts believed it originated in a wildlife wet market in the Wuhan.

On Sunday, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, told French media that the resolution calling for a review would define what the coordinated international response to the outbreak should be, and “noted the importance of gaining a better understanding of the circumstances that allowed this pandemic to develop”.

“In my opinion, we need to look independently at what happened, standing aside from the battlefield between China and the United States, who blame each other for the events in a bidding war that has only exacerbated their rivalry,” Borrell said.

In the same interview, with Le Journal du Dimanche, Borrell also lamented that the EU had been “naive” with China.

“With China, we have been a bit naive,” he said. “China has a selective multilateralism based on a different understanding of the international order. It’s also selective in matters of international law.”

A day after the interview was published, China sent a low-level representative to attend an EU-led global pledging event for Covid-19 vaccines – without making any donations.

Out of the 43 participating countries, China was the only one not sending at least a ministerial level official, and was instead represented by the ambassador to the EU, Zhang Ming.

In the event Zhang, who was the last national representative to speak, called for a halt to the blame games – ostensibly referring to the US and EU attempts to investigate the origin of the virus.

The EU – which traditionally stayed out of geopolitics – has grown increasingly active on the global stage since Ursula von der Leyen became president of the European Commission in December.

Additional reporting by Bloomberg and Reuters


Top: EU Flag. Photo: Bobby Hidy (CC BY-SA 2.0)

Insert: Covid19 radio – All you hear and all you need to hear. Photo: Muffinn (CC BY 2.0)



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