Wednesday, 23 September, 2020

US blocks vote on UN bid for global ceasefire over reference to WHO

The United States has blocked a vote on a United Nation’s bid for a global ceasefire during the coronavirus pandemic over reference to the World Health Organization (WHO).

The Security Council has spent more than six weeks seeking the resolution in support of UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres’ call for a global ceasefire so that the world could focus on fighting the deadly virus.  

The United States has refused to endorse the resolution over its mentioning of the WHO and urging support for the UN health agency’s operations during the pandemic.

On Thursday night, the French diplomats thought they had engineered a compromise in which the resolution would mention UN “specialized health agencies” -an indirect, if clear, reference to the WHO — which appeared to have the support of the US mission.

But on Friday morning, the US switched its position and “broke silence” on the resolution, raising objection to the phrase “specialist health agencies”, and blocking movement towards a vote.

“We understood that there was an agreement on this thing but it seems that they changed their mind,” a western Security Council diplomat said.

“Obviously they have changed their mind within the American system so that wording is still not good enough for them,” another diplomat close to the discussions said. “It might be that they just need a bit more time to settle it amongst themselves, or it might be that someone very high up has made a decision they don’t want it, and therefore it won’t happen. It is unclear at this moment, which one it is.”

The new coronavirus, which causes a respiratory disease known as COVID-19, emerged in the city of Wuhan in December last year, incrementally affecting the rest of the world.

US President Donald Trump has claimed the WHO had failed to disclose or respond to “credible” information in December that suggested the virus could be spread through human-to-human transmission.

Trump has accused the WHO of siding with China and reliance on Chinese data, blaming it for “all sorts of false information about transmission and mortality” that was circulated amid initial reports.

“In our view, the council should either proceed with a resolution limited to support for a ceasefire, or a broadened resolution that fully addresses the need for renewed member state commitment to transparency and accountability in the context of Covid-19. Transparency and reliable data are essential to helping the world combat this ongoing pandemic, and the next one,” a spokesperson for the US mission at the UN said.

Trump has described the coronavirus pandemic as the worst attack ever on his country while pointing the finger at China, saying the outbreak has hit the United States harder than the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor during WW ll or the 9/11 attacks two decades ago, which led the country to wage two deadly wars against Iraq and Afghanistan.  

China believes that the US president is trying to divert attention from his poor handling of the coronavirus outbreak in his country in order to back up his presidential bid.

Trump claimed last week that he had seen evidence linking the virus to a lab in the Chinese city of Wuhan and threatened new trade tariffs on China. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also said there is “enormous evidence” backing the coronavirus-leak scenario.

China has strongly denied suggestions the lab was the source.

The World Health Organization, senior US scientists and even the US intelligence community have rejected the claim despite pressure from the White House.

Meanwhile, Germany’s Defense Ministry and the country’s foreign intelligence agency, the BND, have privately cast doubt on American claims that the coronavirus pandemic originated in a Chinese lab.

On Friday, Der Spiegel reported that an internal memo prepared for defense minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer “classifies the American claims as a calculated attempt to distract” from Washington’s own failings.

Trump is attempting “to distract from his own mistakes and direct Americans’ anger at China,” Spiegel cited from the document.

Public broadcaster NDR has also cast doubt on the existence of a reported joint paper from the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance of Britain, the US, Australia, Canada and New Zealand that allegedly accuses China of playing down the extent of the virus outbreak.

BND chiefs told MPs in a confidential Berlin parliamentary committee hearing that its “Five Eyes” partners claimed to have “no knowledge” of such a report, NDR wrote.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s office, responsible for oversight of the BND, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The US president, who is seeking re-election in November, has ramped up his anti-China rhetoric in recent weeks. This comes as his attempts to reopen his country’s crisis-ridden economy faces opposition from health officials and many state governors while the coronavirus fatalities in the US continue to soar.

US Democrats have criticized Trump since the epidemic erupted in Wuhan late last year, saying he has failed to develop a comprehensive and effective plan for testing Americans for the coronavirus and tracing contacts of those who are infected by the virus, which has so far infected almost four million people and killed over 271,000 across the world.

Australia annoyed as US pushes Wuhan lab COVID-19 theory

Meanwhile, Australian officials have expressed frustration over the fact that their push for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus is being undermined by the White House.

Australian officials say their government’s push for an inquiry into the origins of the novel coronavirus outbreak should not be exploited by the United States amid a row with China, which has been accused by Washington of covering up initial data on the deadly viral pandemic and the coronavirus-leak at a Chinese laboratory.

Canberra called last month for an independent inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus, which apparently erupted in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December last year before growing into a global pandemic, and said the plea was “reasonable” and not targeted at any specific country.

The Chinese foreign ministry has censured the calls for an inquiry as “political manipulation” and said Australia should “give up its ideological prejudices.”

Canberra — caught between a diplomatic row between the US and China — is both a major trading partner to Beijing and a military ally of Washington.

Sources close to the Australian government said Washington’s attack on China has given Beijing room to argue that Australia’s request for an independent inquiry is part of a US-led agenda to blame it for the coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison reiterated his conviction that he has seen no evidence to support the theory the virus came from a medical lab, and that the most likely source was a wildlife market in Wuhan.

He also said the goal of the inquiry was to know how to prevent another outbreak.

During an interview on ABC radio on Friday, Australia’s Trade Minister Simon Birmingham also responded to criticisms about whether an inquiry would hurt trade with China and underscored his country’s independence.

“We’re not doing this as some sort of lapdog of the United States,” he said. “You’ll see there are some marked differences between some of the things that the Australian Government has said and some of the commentary coming out of the United States and that’s because we take our own analysis, our own evidence, our own advice and we will take this issue through to the World Health Assembly.”

China’s foreign ministry has said the calls for an inquiry are “political manipulation” and said Australia should “give up its ideological prejudices”.

In February, China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology dismissed rumors that the virus may have been artificially synthesized at one of its laboratories or perhaps escaped from such a facility.

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