The 194 members of the World Health Organization met virtually on Monday as a part of the 73 annual session of the World Health Assembly. The stated purpose of WHA73 was to evaluate medical proficiencies around the world. But it was China’s response to its role in the pandemic that many state leaders are looking for, and the standoff between the US and China that took center stage.
More than half of the countries that make up the WHO have demanded an investigation into Wuhan, China in an effort to uncover the origins of COVID-19. The US has been suggesting that China has been less than forthright since the beginning of the pandemic.
Even before an international demand for an investigation, China had been in the hot seat due to its failures to disclose the existence of the coronavirus, its level of contagion, or how poorly that nation had fared in containing its spread.
While previously reluctant to even consider a request for an investigation, China is now agreeing to have a WHO independent investigation conducted on the source of the coronavirus in the wake of international pressures. This comes as the US threatens WHO funding further than it's earlier discontinuance of revenue to that organization over its cozy relationship with China. China has pledged $2 billion in aid to WHO, which both makes up for the lack of US funding, and cements the appearance of intimate relations between the two.
Countries like Australia, Germany, Japan, Britain, and the United States have all expressed uncertainty and mistrust of China leading up to WHA73. Some, like Germany, Britain and Japan, have questioned their nations' future business dealings with China, through companies like Huawei, for example. Others, like the United States, have outright accused China of an active role, whether accidentally or not, in the inception and dissemination of COVID-19.
The Trump Administration has said it is taking a serious look at China’s culpability in the crisis. Since April, President Trump has been pointing a finger at China, claiming that its government’s behavior has been a liability to the international community. Now, it would seem that countries at WHA73 have come around to his way of thinking enough to initiate probes.
The call for an investigation into a closer look at China’s actions has been taken up by over a hundred countries—including countries like Canada, Russia, Turkey, and a host of European and African states.
Up till now, China hasn't seemed anxious to take on the burden responsibility. As late as Monday, Chinese leadership insisted they had taken the appropriate measures to confront the crisis.
"After making painstaking efforts and sacrifices, we have turned the tide on the virus and protected lives," Mr. Xi told world leaders. "All along, we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility."
But over the course of the same day, they changed their tune. China now says it is willing to go along with probes from the WHO, and initiated the $2 billion contribution.
"China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19 after it is brought under control to sum up experience and address deficiencies," Xi said. "This work should be based on science and professionalism, led by WHO and conducted in an objective and impartial manner."
The decision is a marked departure from their previous attitude towards the beginning of May when China refused to allow representatives from the WHO to conduct investigations in Wuhan.
While China may have changed its tactic, the United States remains intent on keeping the pressure on China. The United States also made an appearance at WHA73, calling for increased accountability—both from China as well as from the WHO as an institution.
"This cannot ever happen again. The status quo is intolerable. The WHO must change, and it must become far more transparent, and far more accountable," said Alex Azar, the United States Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services.
The WHO has come under fire from the Trump administration for what it sees as that organizations complicity in a coronavirus coverup. The US has since suspended aid to the WHO, over concerns that institutions complacency with Chinese talking points, assumptions, and disseminated information. While the initial suspension of aid was only for 30 days, an additional suspension is now being considered by the Trump administration.
The details of how an investigation would be conducted have not yet been released.