'Out of control': US hits out as China and WHO agree to coronavirus investigation

China and the World Health Organisation have both agreed to an investigation into the coronavirus pandemic, but it hasn’t stopped the US from warning that this kind of ‘failure’ must never happen again.

Speaking in the opening session of the World Health Assembly on Monday (local time), Chinese President Xi Jinping declared his support for a full investigation into how the outbreak was handled, but stressed it must not be politicised by other countries.

"China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19 after it is brought under control to sum up the experiences and address the deficiencies. This work should be based on science and professionalism, led by WHO and conducted in an objective and impartial manner," Mr Xi said.

He stressed any investigation must be led by WHO and should only begin once the virus had been brought under control.

Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly via video link in Beijing.
Chinese President Xi Jinping delivers a speech at the opening of the 73rd World Health Assembly via video link in Beijing. Source: AP

WHO chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus pledged at the assembly to launch an independent probe to review the coronavirus pandemic response "at the earliest appropriate moment".

“Whatever lessons there are to learn from the COVID-19 pandemic, the greatest failing would be to not learn from them and to leave the world in the same vulnerable state it was before,” he said.

US says WHO’s failure cost many lives

Donald Trump has accused both China and the WHO of mishandling the outbreak and covering up its severity in its early stages, prompting the US president to withdraw its funding to WHO, worth US$500 million annually.

On Monday (local time), hours after Mr Xi and Mr Tedros’s announcements, US Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar called for answers over how the COVID-19 outbreak had “spun out of control”.

"There was a failure by this organisation to obtain the information that the world needed, and that failure cost many lives,” he said.

"We saw that WHO failed at its core mission of information sharing and transparency when member states do not act in good faith.

"This cannot ever happen again."

Mr Xi’s announcement comes amid mounting pressure from a growing list of countries worldwide, which have called for an investigation into response to the virus.

Australia was one of the first countries to vocally offer its support to such an investigation, which triggered tensions and threats from China over Australian imports.

Speculation is now mounting that China has indeed followed through with those threats.

The country has slapped punitive tariffs of more than 80 per cent on barley imports from Australia, and while the industry was expecting a decision roughly this week from a China investigation into an anti-dumping complaint, it follows China’s decision to ban meat imports from four Australian abattoirs last week.

China has become increasingly angered by what it calls attempts to politicise the outbreak and has accused other countries of trying to disguise calls for an investigation as a witch hunt.

US President Donald Trump gestures as he leaves a meeting with restaurant industry executives about the coronavirus response, in the State Dining Room of the White House, Monday, May 18, 2020, in Washington.
President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked WHO and China over the outbreak. Source: AP

In his address, Mr Xi defended China’s role in the outbreak, insisting it acted with “openness, transparency and responsibility" when the epidemic was detected in Wuhan.

He said China had give all relevant outbreak data to WHO and other countries, including the virus’s genetic sequence, “in a most timely fashion”.

Chinese communist party ‘weak’, Pompeo claims

The announcement comes just days after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo launched a scathing attack on Chinese-state media, which has lashed out at the US and even Australia, as attentions turn to the origins of the virus.

Last month, Chinese-state publication The Global Times editor-in-chief Hu Xijin called Australia “chewing gum stuck to the soles of China’s shoes”.

Mr Pompeo said such attacks highlighted the “weakness” within China’s communist regime.

“Once they know they have done things that are wrong, they strike out. They try to blame others. I think that’s what you’re seeing,” he told Breitbart News.

“They also try to manoeuvre around the world through disinformation. We have been clear—President Trump, myself, the State Department—have been clear about making sure that everyone understands the facts surrounding the Chinese Communist Party.”

Continuing an ugly back-and-forth, China's Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Zhao Lijian hit back, telling reporters on Monday Mr Pompeo was a “lying blabbermouth”.

US brands China donation a decoy

While Washington has tried to pin the blame for the pandemic on China, Beijing has sought to reframe the narrative, offering medical aid to countries around the world.

With the world racing to find a drug to stop the pandemic, Mr Xi pledged on Monday to make any potential vaccine developed by China a "global public good" once it was put into use.

This move would be China's contribution to achieving accessibility and affordability of a vaccine in developing countries as well, he said.

China says it has five potential vaccines in clinical trials.

A top Chinese health official said last week more vaccine candidates were in the pipeline and awaiting approval for human trials.

Mr Xi also told the assembly China would provide $2 billion in international aid over two years to help with COVID-19 response and economic development in affected countries, especially in the developing world.

Yet US National Security Council spokesman John Ullyot characterised China’s newly announced contribution as “a token to distract from calls from a growing number of nations demanding accountability for the Chinese government’s failure to meet its obligations”.

He said since China was “the source” of the outbreak, it had “a special responsibility to pay more and give more”.

with AP and AFP

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