As the World Health Organization prepares to hold its main annual meeting next week, there are concerns that tensions between China and the United States may hinder the powerful actions needed to resolve the coronavirus crisis.
The UN health agency has been swallowed up by a difficult task for several months that seeks to coordinate the global response to the new coronavirus pandemic. It will invite the Minister of Health and other political figures to attend the virtual annual meeting for the first time.
The World Health Assembly shortened from the usual three weeks to only two days on Monday and Tuesday. It is expected to focus almost exclusively on COVID-19, which has killed more than 300,000 people worldwide in just a few months, and Nearly 4.5 million people were infected.
WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said on Friday that the incident will be “one of the most important events since its establishment in 1948.”
However, the deteriorating relationship between the two largest economies in the world in a pandemic may threaten the chance of reaching agreement on global measures to resolve the crisis.
Gian Luca Burci, an adjunct professor at the Global Health Center of the Graduate School of Geneva, told AFP: “Of course, I am concerned about the politicization of the World Health Assembly and the risk of its failure.”
US President Donald Trump this week threatened to sever ties with China at the end of last year because of its role in the spread of the COVID-19 virus. The country has repeatedly confirmed that the virus originated in Chinese laboratories.
He also suspended funding to WHO because of the initial underestimation of the severity of the outbreak and expressed condolences to Beijing.
Despite tensions, countries still hope to adopt a resolution by consensus, urging a common response to this pandemic.
Nora Kronig, head of the International Affairs Office of the Swiss Public Health Office, said that after “difficult” negotiations, EU consultations on the resolution ended this week.
She told AFP: “One challenge is that it is almost impossible to negotiate in a virtual way. This makes it more complicated to reach consensus among small groups.”
But a few days later, an interim agreement was reached to approve the resolution, which, among other things, required more equitable access to tests, medical equipment, potential treatments, and possible future vaccines.
An EU source called the draft “ambitious” and pointed out that if consensus was indeed adopted as expected, this would mark the first time that the Global Forum had unanimous support for the COVID-19 response text.
Sources say that countries have not avoided difficult topics, including calling for more WHO reforms after determining that WHO’s capabilities “have proved to be insufficient to prevent such a severe crisis.”
Although diplomats agreed in principle to the draft resolution, observers expressed concern about the concerns in the current political climate, and some countries may still choose to break the consensus next week.
Andrew Bremberg, the US ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, said Friday: “I hope we can join the consensus.”
The United States and Europe are in a dispute over future access to vaccines, and Washington has also accused China of attempting to steal US immunity research.
Washington has also led many countries, asking the World Health Organization to end its exclusion from Taiwan. Beijing considers Beijing to be part of Taiwan and allows it to enter next week ’s conference as an observer.
Taiwan’s participation in the “minimum”
Bremberg said: “Although it has been a worrying problem for many years, this year has attracted more and more attention in response to the global pandemic.”
“Allowing some kind of meaningful participation seems to be the minimum requirement that WHO can do.”
However, the UN health agency insisted that this move would require a resolution from a member state, which decided in 1972 that Beijing was the sole legal representative of China.
It also implies that invitations can only be sent with Beijing’s blessings.
Taiwan has been invited to participate in the World Health Assembly as an observer for many years, but this invitation was discontinued in 2016 because Taiwan ’s new President Tsai Ing-wen-wen refused to recognize the concept of Taiwan as “a part of one China” . “.
At the same time, the United States, represented by Secretary of Health Alex Azar, is not among the dozen or so countries that allow Taiwan to vote.
Several diplomatic sources warned that even under normal conditions putting this issue into a vote is a long process, and doing so in a short virtual meeting would be an insurmountable logistical challenge.
A diplomat warned that this would make the entire assembly “torpedo”.