WHO let the plague out? Over 100 countries to demand UNGA probe

If Xi Jinping’s propaganda war and economic threats tried to save China from humiliation, it just backfired on Beijing. Health ministers from more than 100 countries have signed onto a call at the United Nations General Assembly for a probe into the origins of COVID, a demand drafted by the European Union. The demand doesn’t name China, but it does name the UN subordinate agency World Health Organization:

More than 100 health ministers from around the world are expected to call for an independent evaluation of the World Health Organization’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic during the organization’s 73rd general assembly on Monday. …

President Trump has been Beijing’s chief accuser, but he is not the only one to have alleged that Chinese officials covered up the virus during its early stages and exacerbated its spread into a pandemic.

The WHO has also faced criticism, with some observers saying the agency was at least far too credulous in believing Beijing’s reassurances, which it then amplified uncritically to the wider world.

The WHO’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, has also been under scrutiny after he heaped praise on Beijing’s coronavirus response.

Americans might barely know that Trump “isn’t the only one” pointing the finger at China. We’ll get back to that at the end, but Australia first demanded that the UNGA open this probe after the EU backed down from China’s threats, and they are also not alone. Russia signed onto the demand too, fueling the backlash against China that has developed as the disease has spread — and as China’s medical products turn out to be useless.  The point has now become clear enough to Beijing:

That was met with an angry response from Beijing, which accused Canberra of a “highly irresponsible” move that could “disrupt international cooperation in fighting the pandemic and goes against people’s shared aspiration.”

While the resolution to be presented at the annual meeting of World Health Organization (WHO) members, which begins on Monday in Geneva, does not single out China or any other country, it calls for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of “the (WHO)-coordinated international health response to Covid-19.”

The wording of the resolution is weak compared to Australia’s previous calls for a probe into China’s role and responsibility in the origin of the pandemic. This may have been necessary to get a majority of WHO member states to sign on — particularly those, such as Russia, with traditionally strong ties to Beijing.

But that doesn’t mean China’s government should rest easy. The potential for an independent probe, even one not initially tasked with investigating an individual country’s response, to turn up damning or embarrassing information is great. Australian government sources told the ABC, the country’s public broadcaster, that the resolution’s language was sufficiently strong to “ensure that a proper and thorough investigation took place.”

China initially indicated that it will only support an investigation conducted by WHO itself, which is not just laughable but also a good indication that Beijing sees WHO as its own subsidiary. And it has been, and still continues to be; Taiwan is still being excluded from this conference despite its success in dealing with COVID-19. The calls to restore Taiwan to WHO have grown, but Taiwan has agreed that this emergency conference isn’t the time to pursue it:

Taiwan on Monday said its exclusion from the World Health Organization will not be raised at the global health body’s annual policy meeting this week because allies want to focus on the fight against the coronavirus.

Taiwan has had remarkable success in combatting the pandemic with only seven deaths and some 400 infections.

But it is frozen out of the WHO by Beijing which regards the self-ruled democratic island of 23 million people as its own territory and has vowed to take it by force if necessary.

More than a dozen countries have openly called for Taiwan’s inclusion despite China’s adamant insistence on barring any diplomatic recognition of Taiwan. That’s how badly this has backfired on China, which is losing nearly a half-century of ground on trade and diplomacy.

That might be why Beijing hit reverse this morning, hoping to play for time:

Chinese President Xi Jinping prepared a speech to present via video during the opening ceremony of the Assembly. He was invited to send the remarks by WHO director general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who has himself faced criticism from the Trump administration and other WHO states for being too China-friendly in his response to the pandemic.

In his remarks, Xi said China would support a comprehensive review of the global response to the pandemic led by the WHO, but only after the virus is definitively reined in. Xi reiterated his insistence that China has been open and transparent about disease and said the ruling Communist Party would support an investigation conducted in an objective and impartial manner.

In a seeming response to recent claims, including from U.S. officials, that China has waged a cyber-espionage campaign aimed at stealing data from researchers around the world racing to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, Xi said any vaccine developed in China would be made available to the world.

Xi is stalling for time, and transparently so. He wants to push this off as long as possible to (a) let the momentum behind this push abate somewhat, and (b) get more time to cover up what happened in Wuhan. The UNGA and the WHO members who have funded China’s mouthpiece had better strike while the iron is hot.

Finally, perhaps this UNGA rebellion against Xi might take the blinders off the American media, who paint attempts to hold China responsible as some sort of dodge for Trump. It turns out that the US media’s bête noire isn’t the only one pointing the finger at China; in fact, pretty much everyone else but the American media is doing so. The only success Xi has actually had with his propaganda war has been in American newspapers and television broadcasts. If having the notoriously anti-American UNGA side with Trump doesn’t wake up the American media to its exploitation from Beijing, nothing will.