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A video conference between G20 leaders was to happen on Friday but was called off at the last minute due to bitter disagreement between US and China (Reuters)
A video conference between G20 leaders was to happen on Friday but was called off at the last minute due to bitter disagreement between US and China (Reuters)

Second virtual summit of G20 leaders cancelled amid US-China row

  • Washington holds the WHO accountable for its early activities in handling the novel coronavirus outbreak
  • The US has demanded that independent experts be allowed to visit Hubei province in China

NEW DELHI: The escalating row between the US and China over the role of the World Health Organisation (WHO) resulted in the abrupt cancellation of a second virtual summit of the G20 leaders, a news report said Saturday.

According to the report in the South China Morning Post, a video conference between G20 leaders was to happen on Friday but was called off at the last minute due to bitter disagreement between Washington and Beijing over the wording of the outcome communiqué on the WHO.

Washington holds the WHO accountable for its early activities in handling the novel coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 190,000 people across the globe, including close to 50,000 in the US. It has also ordered a halt to the funding of WHO. China, on its part, has dismissed all proposals to investigate the WHO. In the past weeks, the US has sharpened its criticism of China, demanding that independent experts be allowed to visit Hubei province in China, considered the ground zero for pandemic.

While some analysts see the tug of war between the two most influential members of the G20 as an effort by the two to shape the post covid-19 world order, there are others apprehend that the grouping seen as largely effective in shaping economic and social development discourse in recent years may be paralysed by the tensions between the US and China at a critical time.

In New Delhi, there was no comment from the Indian foreign ministry on the report. The official position of India, one of the members of the G20, has been that the international community first focus their efforts on containing the spread of SARS-CoV2 virus that causes covid-19 with the question of accountability taken up later. Other members of the G20 are Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Mexico, South Korea​,​ Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, ​​​Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States and the European Union (EU)​.

The first meeting of the G20 leaders last month in the aftermath of the covid-19 pandemic was seen as called by Saudi Arabia, the current chair of the G20, after prime minister Narendra Modi suggested such a meet to discuss the global economic challenge posed by the pandemic. With most countries enforcing social distancing and lockdowns bringing economic activity to a standstill, oil prices have gone into a tailspin and global stock markets have crashed. The first summit had agreed to do “whatever it takes to overcome the pandemic" and to roll out a US$5 trillion package to help the global economy.

This week, Indian foreign minister S Jaishankar spoke to his counterparts from the US, Russia, Brazil and Saudi Arabia, besides some other countries, with speculation rife that the US-China impasse was one of the subjects discussed during the phone conversations. According to a post by Jaishankar, an upcoming meeting of the foreign ministers of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa was discussed with Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov. The meeting is scheduled to take place via video link on Tuesday.

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