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The EU is a co-sponsor of the plan that will be put forward at the assembly’s May 18 meeting (Photo: Reuters)
The EU is a co-sponsor of the plan that will be put forward at the assembly’s May 18 meeting (Photo: Reuters)

Coronavirus origin: EU backs independent probe

  • The European Union will put forward a proposal to the World Health Assembly calling for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus
  • The EU is consulting with WHO members and regional groups on the wording of the proposal

CANBERRA, TAIPEI, BRUSSELS : The European Union will put forward a proposal to the World Health Assembly calling for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus.

The EU is a co-sponsor of the plan that will be put forward at the assembly’s May 18 meeting, European Commission spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson said by email Tuesday. The bloc is consulting with World Health Organization members and regional groups on the wording of the proposal, she added.

“The draft resolution envisages calling for an independent review on lessons learnt from the international health response to the coronavirus, to strengthen future global health security preparedness," Battu-Henriksson said.

The meeting of the WHO’s decision-making body later this month is shaping up as a test of China’s diplomatic standing in the wake of the pandemic. In addition to calls for an independent probe, nations such as the US are also pushing to reinstate Taiwan — which Beijing views as a province — as an observer to the assembly.

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra that he has written to all Group of 20 leaders this week in his bid to create support for the investigation into how the virus started and spread.

Australia’s previous calls for the probe have raised the ire of China, its largest trading partner. In the US, President Donald Trump has accused Beijing of deliberately mishandling an outbreak that has killed more than 4,600 Chinese citizens to damage him politically and promised a “conclusive" report on the virus’s origins.

“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 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 Chinese city of Wuhan.

‘Political maneuvering’

Beijing allowed Taiwan to participate in WHA meetings as an observer between 2009 and 2016 after former President Ma Ying-jeou accepted the premise that the island was part of Chinese territory. But current President Tsai Ing-wen refused to endorse the notion, saying that she views the democratic island as an already independent nation -- and leading Beijing to withdraw its permission for Taiwan’s continued participation.

Taiwan “will continue to strive to be invited to attend WHA as an observer," the island’s foreign ministry said in a statement Tuesday. The virus “highlights the necessity and urgency of Taiwan’s complete participation in WHO meetings, mechanisms and activities," it added, referring to the illness as “Wuhan Pneumonia."

China last month dismissed calls for Taiwan to participate in the World Health Assembly, with foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian blaming its government for “reckless political maneuvers."

“Their real intention is to seek independence under the pretext of the pandemic," he said on April 9. “We are firmly opposed to that. Their scheme will never succeed."

Geng Shuang, another Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, last month also blasted calls for an independent probe into the virus origin as “political maneuvering."

“It will disrupt international cooperation in fighting the pandemic and goes against people’s shared aspiration," he said on April 23.

Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has said an independent tribunal with powers similar to United Nations weapons inspectors should be allowed to enter Wuhan, where the outbreak first emerged late last year. Canberra has further riled China by calling for the end of wildlife sales in so-called wet markets, one of which was one of the first places in Wuhan where the virus was detected.

Trump has also been ramping up pressure on China, and Secretary of State Michael Pompeo claimed this week there was “enormous evidence" that the coronavirus outbreak sprung from a high-security virology lab in Wuhan. Chinese state media on Monday unleashed a torrent of criticism against Pompeo, calling him “evil" and a liar.

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