Russian President Vladimir Putin once called Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, a “lone warrior.”
Putin was joking, but that description is starting to look more and more accurate. Russia has joined about 100 countries in backing a resolution at the upcoming World Health Assembly (WHA), calling for an independent inquiry into the corona virus pandemic.
The European Union-drafted resolution comes on the back of a push by Australia for an inquiry into China’s initial handling of the crisis.
That was met with an angry response from Beijing, which accused Canberra of a “highly irresponsible” move that could “disrupt international cooperation in fighting the pandemic and goes against people’s shared aspiration.”
While the resolution to be presented at the annual meeting of World Health Organization (WHO) members, does not single out China or any other country, it calls for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of “the (WHO)-coordinated international health response to Covid-19.”
The wording of the resolution is weak compared to Australia’s previous calls for a probe into China’s role and responsibility in the origin of the pandemic. This may have been necessary to get a majority of WHO member states to sign on — particularly those, such as Russia, with traditionally strong ties to Beijing.
Beijing has previously said it would only support an investigation held by the WHO, which has been accused of being overly influenced by China — a charge top WHO officials refute.
Any highly critical report could have a potentially disastrous effect on China’s global standing, which has already taken a major knock as a result of the corona virus crisis, with the United States in particular pushing a narrative that Beijing is to blame for the pandemic.
Top officials, including Xi, have admitted to being aware that the infection was spreading even as the Wuhan government was still downplaying its severity and police were detaining whistleblowers. Dr. Zhong Nanshan, the Chinese government’s senior medical adviser, said the local authorities “didn’t like to tell the truth at that time.”
He said: “At the very beginning they kept silent, when I said probably we have (a larger) number of people being infected.”
Zhong became suspicious when the number of officially reported cases in Wuhan remained at 41 for more than 10 days — despite infections emerging overseas. “I didn’t believe that result, so I kept asking for the real number,” he said. “they were very reluctant to answer my question.”
The suggestion that knee-jerk censorship or a deliberate cover-up by Beijing enabled the virus to spread, first within China and then throughout the world, has been repeatedly and angrily refuted by Chinese officials. But this has hurt the country’s global standing, with foreign politicians — particularly in the US but also in parts of Europe and the rest of the world — referring to the “China virus” or blaming Beijing for the chaos they are now dealing with.
China has come in for plenty of international criticism over the years: on human rights, its aggressive posturing in the South China Sea, and issues of trade and intellectual property. But often that dissent has come from Beijing’s traditional rivals, such as the US — many smaller countries have held their tongues. However, the virus — and the corresponding global economic slump — has opened the door to a wave of criticism and pushback not experienced by Beijing for years.