China Shocked by ‘US Reversal’ on UN Coronavirus Action

May 11th, 2020 - by Michelle Nichols / Reuters & The Sydney Morning Herald

Michelle Nichols / Reuters & The Sydney Morning Herald

NEW YORK (May 10, 2020) — China and the United States both supported a draft United Nations Security Council resolution confronting the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday and it was “shocking and regretful” that Washington changed its mind on Friday, a Chinese diplomat said.

A US diplomat rejected the Chinese comment, saying there was no US agreement on the text.

For more than six weeks the 15-member council has been trying to agree on a text that ultimately aims to back a March 23 call by UN chief Antonio Guterres for a ceasefire in global conflicts so the world can focus on the pandemic.

But talks have been stymied by a stand-off between China and the United States over whether to mention the World Health Organisation. The United States does not want a reference, China has insisted it be included, while some other members see the mention — or not — of WHO as a marginal issue, diplomats said.

Washington has halted funding for the WHO, a UN agency, after President Donald Trump accused it of being “China-centric” and promoting China’s “disinformation” about the outbreak, assertions the WHO denies.

It appeared the Security Council had reached a compromise late on Thursday, diplomats said and according to the latest version of a French and Tunisian drafted-resolution.

Instead of naming the WHO, the draft referenced “specialized health agencies”. The WHO is the only such agency. But the United States rejected that language on Friday, diplomats said, because it was an obvious reference to the Geneva-based WHO.

“The United States had agreed to the compromise text and it’s shocking and regretful that the US changed its position,” said the Chinese diplomat, speaking on condition of anonymity, on Saturday, adding that China supported the draft.

The US diplomat, also speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no US agreement on the text, which the US mission to the United Nations had sent to Washington for review on Thursday.

Diplomats said that during negotiations both China and the United States had raised the prospect of a veto on the issue of whether WHO is mentioned or not. A resolution needs nine votes in favor and no vetoes by France, Russia, Britain, the United States or China to pass.

A State Department spokesperson said on Friday the United States had worked constructively and accused China of repeatedly blocking compromises during negotiations.

While the Security Council — charged with maintaining international peace and security — cannot do much to deal with the coronavirus itself, diplomats and analysts say it could have projected global unity by backing Guterres’ ceasefire call.

French UN Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière on Friday said: “We are still trying to achieve a positive result and trying to see if there is a possible compromise.”

Countries Rally Behind WHO after Trump Suspends Payments

Rick Noack / The Sydney Morning Herald

BERLIN (April 16, 2020) —US President Donald Trump’s decision to temporarily suspend payments to the World Health Organisation in response to its handling of the coronavirus pandemic triggered international statements of support for the United Nations agency on Wednesday.

While Trump’s criticism of the WHO is being shared by others, who argue that the agency is unwilling to hold Beijing sufficiently accountable for its mistakes, close US allies said Wednesday they vehemently disagreed with a suspension of payments and were not planning to follow suit.

In Japan, where Deputy Prime Minister Taro Aso suggested last month that the WHO might have to change its name to the “Chinese Health Organisation” amid criticism of the agency, the country’s chief cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, said Wednesday that Japan would continue to cooperate with and fund the WHO.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern rejected Trump’s criticism more forcefully. “At a time like this when we need to be sharing information and we need to have advice we can rely on, the WHO has provided that,” she said. “We will continue to support it and continue to make our contributions.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison echoed concerns voiced by Trump and others by saying the WHO is “not immune from criticism,” but he added that the organisation “does a lot of important work.”

Many traditional US allies see Trump’s move as an effort to score domestic political points at the cost of weakening international agreements and entities. During his presidency, Trump has attacked or withdrawn from UN bodies such as UNESCO and the Human Rights Council, frequently stunning and angering US partners in Europe.

“It’s a decision that we regret,” French government spokesman Sibeth Ndiaye said Wednesday of the US suspension of payments to the WHO.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas wrote on Twitter that “apportioning blame doesn’t help” and called for increased support for the agency on Wednesday. The British prime minister’s official spokesman said the WHO is an essential global organisation fighting a global pandemic, “and we have no plans to stop our own funding.”

The European Union foreign policy chief sharply criticised the decision, saying it would undermine the global response to the pandemic. “Deeply regret US decision to suspend funding to @WHO,” Josep Borrell wrote on Twitter.

“There is no reason justifying this move at a moment when their efforts are needed more than ever to help contain & mitigate the #coronavirus pandemic. Only by joining forces we can overcome this crisis that knows no borders.”

In what appeared to be a veiled response to Trump’s funding suspension, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus wrote on Wednesday that there “is no time to waste” and that the organization’s “singular focus is on working to serve all people to save lives.”

Trump’s move has predominantly been seen by his critics in the United States as a ploy to distract from criticism of his own handling of the crisis — a point that was widely referenced abroad on Wednesday.

The chairman of the Russian State Duma’s foreign affairs committee, Leonid Slutsky, called Trump’s move “absolutely harmful” on Wednesday and an example of “egoism and the politicisation of COVID-19.” The move was aimed at blaming others for US failures, said Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova.

The “US regime’s bullying, threatening & vainglorious blathering isn’t just an addiction: it kills people,” Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif wrote on Twitter,

Meanwhile, a Chinese government spokesman on Wednesday praised the WHO as playing an “irreplaceable role” in the global public health crisis, adding that the U.S. payment suspension “will weaken the WHO’s capability and undermine international cooperation.”

As countries such as Russia and China are now rallying behind the WHO, there are mounting concerns that Trump’s move could derail rather than encourage reforms within the agency.

U.N. Secretary General António Guterres appeared to acknowledge the looming debate on Tuesday, saying “it is possible that the same facts have had different readings by different entities.”

“Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis,” Guterres said. But he added: “Now is not that time.”

By ignoring those warnings, Trump’s critics fear, the president is risking an escalation with an agency that many consider critical to public health efforts around the world.

In the impoverished Gaza Strip, where the health-care system struggled to provide services even before the pandemic, authorities have relied heavily on the WHO during the current crisis. The agency has supplemented a system that had fewer than 70 ventilators when the first positive coronavirus cases popped up among residents returning from outside the enclave.

Health officials have warned that an uncontrolled outbreak in its crowded camps, which lack clean water and reliable electricity, would be devastating. Medical professionals said Trump’s move could cost lives.

“This is an insane decision,” said Medhat Abbas, director general of primary care at the Palestinian Ministry of Health, who emphasised that he was speaking as a physician and not for the ministry. “WHO might be right or wrong — it is run by human beings — but it has saved the world many, many times over the past years.”

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