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Australia’s call for an independent global inquiry into the coronavirus outbreak has garnered widespread international support ahead of a major meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, on Monday.
Representatives of the United Nation's 194 member states will meet, many virtually, for the World Health Assembly meeting where a proposal led by the European Union will be put forth to launch an inquiry into the origins and subsequent handling of the coronavirus.
Australia was the first country to call for such an inquiry – a move which angered the Chinese Communist Party and has since led to trade tensions and a bubbling diplomatic row between China and Scott Morrison’s government.
A draft resolution calling for the “gradual process of impartial, independent and exhaustive evaluation” to start as soon as possible had the support of 62 nations by Sunday night (AEST) including the European Union, Canada, the UK, Russia, Japan, Mexico, Brazil and South Korea.
There is, however, one thing noticeably absent from the EU-led motion: Any direct reference to China or Wuhan, the city where the outbreak is believed to have begun.
China’s furious opposition to a global inquiry was ostensibly based on fears it would be used as a political exercise to bash and scapegoat the country. Chinese president Xi Jinping is also seeking to redirect anger among the Chinese people away from his ruling party, and towards the outside world.
The inquiry, and the prospect of digging for liabilities, could add tension to an assembly in which not only the WHO, but also China could be questioned over their management.
However the complete omission of China in the draft proposal shows the careful tack taken by the nations backing the European Union and Australia’s call for an independent investigation.
The motion does say the WHO should work with the World Organisation for Animal Health to conduct “scientific and collaborative field missions” and “identify the zoonotic source of the virus”.
For months, it’s been suspected the virus moved from a bat possibly to another animal before jumping to humans near a wet market in Wuhan.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne says it's crucial to review the events of earlier this year to avoid a repeat.
“There is positive support for an independent review into the pandemic to help the world learn the lessons necessary to protect global health,” Senator Payne told The Australian.
“This is about collaborating to equip the international community to better prevent or counter the next pandemic and keep our citizens safe.”
The Australian government expects the motion to be endorsed in Geneva.
Morrison stands firm in face of Chinese pressure
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has previously said the push for an inquiry into the origins of the COVID-19 crisis was “completely unremarkable”.
On Friday, he called on China to respect Australia’s values and rules.
"We draw very clear lines about things that are very important to us, as does the Chinese government," he said.
"We respect their lines, as we expect our lines to be respected, whether it's on our foreign investment rules, or our rules around technology, our rules regarding human rights and things of that nature.
"I don't think any Australian would want us to compromise on those important things, and those things are not to be traded, ever.”
However China's Foreign Minister Wang Yi lashed out at foreign politicians for politicising the pandemic.
Backing for the motion comes amid worsening relations between Australia and China after Trade Minister Simon Birmingham suggested local businesses would probably start looking elsewhere to sell their products to spread their risk.
The minister also told ABC News on Sunday he had tried to contact his Chinese counterpart by phone directly to try and soothe the growing rift, but he had yet to get a return call.
China last week abruptly suspended meat imports from major Australian suppliers and has been threatening to slap a large tariff on Australian barley imports.
– with AAP
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