The World Health Organization will begin its first virtual assembly on Monday, but there are fears that US-China tensions could derail the tough action needed to address the COVID-19 crisis. The World Health Assembly, which has been reduced from the usual three weeks to just two days, Monday and Tuesday, is expected to focus almost entirely on COVID-19, which has killed more than 310,000 people globally in a matter of months. killed and infected around 4.7. million.
Several heads of state, heads of government, health ministers and other dignitaries are expected to attend the meeting, which is scheduled to begin around noon on Monday. WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that the event would be “one of the most important (WHAs) since its inception in 1948”. But the prospects of reaching an agreement on global measures to address the crisis could be threatened by worsening relations between the world’s two largest economies over the pandemic. US President Donald Trump last week threatened to cut ties with China, where the outbreak began late last year, over its role in the spread of COVID-19, and has repeatedly made unproven allegations that the virus is a virus. Sugar originated in the laboratory. He has also suspended funding over allegations the WHO initially downplayed the severity of the outbreak, and was bowing to Beijing.
Despite the tension, countries are expected to adopt a resolution urging a joint response to the pandemic by consensus. The resolution, introduced by the European Union, calls for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive assessment” of the international response to the COVID crisis. Consultations around the text ended last week after “difficult” negotiations, according to Nora Kronig, head of Switzerland’s Office of Public Health’s Department for International Affairs. Several days later, a tentative agreement was reached to approve the proposal, which also called for more equitable access to tests, medical equipment, potential treatments and a potential future vaccine.
An EU source called the draft “ambitious”, and pointed out that if it is indeed passed as unanimously as expected, it will be the first time the global forum has expressed unanimous support for a text on the COVID-19 response. have achieved. The source said countries had not shied away from thorny topics, including a call for more WHO reform after determining that its capacity had “proved to be insufficient to prevent a crisis of this magnitude”. The resolution also calls on the WHO to work with other international agencies and countries to identify the animal source of the virus and find out how it first reached humans.
While diplomats have agreed in principle to the draft resolution, observers expressed concern that in the current political climate, some countries may choose to break the consensus next week. “My hope is that we will be able to reach a consensus,” US Ambassador to the United Nations Andrew Bremberg said in Geneva on Friday. The United States and Europe are at odds over future vaccine access, while Washington has also accused China of trying to steal US vaccination research. And Washington is also leading several countries to call on the WHO to end its boycott of Taiwan, which Beijing considers part of its territory, and allow it to access next week’s assembly as an observer.
“While this has been an ongoing concern for many years, it has received more attention this year in response to the global pandemic,” Bremberg said. “Allowing any kind of meaningful participation would seem to be the minimum that the WHO can do.” However, the UN health agency has insisted that such a move would require a resolution by member states, which decided in 1972 that Beijing was China’s only legitimate representative. It has also suggested that it can issue the invitation only with Beijing’s blessings.
Taiwan was invited to participate in the WHA for several years as an observer, but this stopped in 2016, with the entry of a new Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen, who refused to recognize the concept. Denies that Taiwan is part of “One China”. About 15 countries, including Belize, Guatemala, the Marshall Islands and Honduras, have written to Tedros asking the question of Taiwan’s participation be added to the agenda.
The United States, which will be represented during the assembly by Health Secretary Alex Azar, is meanwhile not among the countries asking the WHA to take a call on the issue of Taiwan’s participation. Several diplomatic sources cautioned that voting on the issue would be a drawn-out process even under normal circumstances, and that doing so during a short, virtual meeting would be an insurmountable logistical challenge. It would “torpedo” the entire gathering, a diplomatic source warned.
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