Australia has welcomed a World Health Assembly resolution adopted overnight, which provides a clear path to a “necessary” global investigation into the origins of the coronavirus outbreak.
The probe was backed by more than 130 World Health Organisation member states including China, with Australia’s Foreign Minister Marise Payne welcoming the “landmark” development.
While unclear how much co-operation China will give and when exactly it will commence, the inquiry will attempt to identify the sources of the virus.
Resolution on #Covid19 response unanimously adopted by the 73rd World Health Assembly, with some new co-sponsors added. Some countries afterwards request to explain their positions. https://t.co/D0QzlR4UdC pic.twitter.com/7Lnakd1R7E
— Geneva Global Health Hub (G2H2) (@G2H2_Geneva) May 19, 2020
"There is also a clear mandate to identify the source of the COVID-19 virus and how it was transmitted to humans, which will be necessary to prevent and reduce the risks of the emergence of new diseases that pass from animals to humans," Ms Payne said in a statement on Wednesday.
"We want accountability more than anyone," WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
At a press conference on Tuesday (local time), Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian said China supports a “comprehensive and accurate” evaluation, which among other goals will lead to “discovering the animal sources of the virus.”
China is sensitive to the issue that its animal wet markets were the global source of the disease, and Australia’s early vocal stance to establish where it originated has soured diplomatic relationships between the two countries.
‘Slap to the face of Australia’
Mr Zhao called Australia’s original call for an “independent international review” as “entirely different” to the resolution.
“The draft resolution calls for an evaluation of experience gained and lessons learnt from the WHO-coordinated international health response, rather than an inquiry based on the presumption of guilt targeting certain country,” he said.
“We hope Australia will read the text carefully instead of making conclusions based on assumptions.”
He said China was willing to welcome a shift in Australia’s course if it “completely gives up its political manoeuvre and returns to the broad consensus of the international community following the relevant WHA resolution.”
Chinese state-media publication The Global Times branded the backing of the resolution as opposed to Australia’s immediate investigation was a “slap to the face of countries like Australia”.
"To claim the WHA's resolution a vindication of Australia's call is nothing but a joke,” a spokesperson said.
Trade Minister Simon Birmingham added to the ugly narrative following the remarks, criticising China for its continued bad-mouthing of Australia.
"Australia is not going to engage in cheap politicking over an issue as important as COVID-19," he told Sky News.
"I would have thought the appropriate response from China's ambassador in Australia would have been to welcome these outcomes."
Senator Payne said Australia would continue to use its voice to protect Australia's national interest and the global interest.
"Australia has been clear and transparent in calling for an independent review into COVID-19, which is an unprecedented global health and economic crisis," she said.
Further details about the global inquiry, such as when it will start, are yet to be decided.
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