Australia’s foreign minister yesterday welcomed international support for an independent investigation of the COVID-19 pandemic, a proposed inquiry that has been condemned by China and blamed for a bilateral trade rift.
The EU has drafted a resolution, cosponsored by dozens of countries including Australia, that has been gaining support and is expected to be approved in a vote at the World Health Assembly in Geneva, Switzerland, this week.
The resolution before the assembly, the decisionmaking body of the WHO, calls for an evaluation of the origins of the pandemic and responses to it.
Australian Minister for Foreign Affairs Marise Payne said that her government had been keen to ensure that the resolution stipulates the inquiry be “impartial, independent and comprehensive.”
“We’re very encouraged by the growing levels of support for this comprehensive World Health Assembly motion,” Payne told reporters. “We look forward to seeing hopefully a positive outcome later this week.”
Australia has been seen as a leader in rallying global support for such an inquiry, attracting Chinese criticism that it is parroting the US and inviting a Chinese boycott of exports and services.
Government critics have said Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s conservative administration should have gathered allies before antagonizing the nation’s most important trading partner.
In Beijing, Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Zhao Lijian (趙立堅) said he hoped Australia would respect China’s position, keep in mind Australia’s own interests and “create a sound atmosphere for the two sides’ pragmatic cooperation by improving ties and deepening mutual trust.”
China is looking into trade issues between the sides “in accordance with related laws and World Trade Organization rules,” Zhao said.
He added that the international consensus is that “anti-epidemic cooperation remains a top priority, and it is not time to immediately activate the review and investigation into origins of the virus.”
Payne did not see the level of international support for the inquiry as a victory for Australia.
“It’s a win for the international community, and Australia as a strong and active part of that international community would certainly see it that way,” Payne said.
The motion comes as Australian Minister for Trade, Tourism and Investment Simon Birmingham struggles to resolve a dispute with China over Australian beef imports.
Birmingham yesterday said that he had failed for six days to arrange to speak with his Chinese counterpart about China’s ban on meat from Australia’s four largest abattoirs over labeling issues.
Australia expects China to soon announce whether new tariffs will be placed on Australian barley, a crop China says is subsidized by the Australian government.
Australia’s most lucrative exports to China — iron ore and coal — have not been affected by the dispute.
Birmingham said that Australia is prepared to take China to the WTO over the beef and barley issues.
“In the end, Australia uses the independent umpire where it’s appropriate,” Birmingham told Seven Network television.
“I hope China will come on board at the World Health Assembly, joining many, many other nations in supporting the obvious need for an inquiry into COVID-19, its origins, its handling right across the world,” he added.
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