China defends WHO and lashes out at US withdrawal decision

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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - China defended the World Health Organisation and lashed out at the US decision to withdraw from the UN body, adding to a litany of disputes between the world’s largest economies and increasing geopolitical rivals.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Zhao Lijian said the move was “another demonstration of the US pursuing unilateralism, withdrawing from groups and breaking contracts.”

The WHO is “the most authoritative and professional international institution in the field of global public health security,” Mr Zhao said at a briefing Wednesday, adding that the US departure would particularly hurt developing countries in need of international support.

The WHO plans to send a team to China to investigate the source of the virus, which was first detected in the central city of Wuhan last year. China has said it remains unclear where the virus originated and has rejected an independent probe, but reiterated this week that it is working closely with the WHO and will “continue to support scientists from all countries to carry out global scientific research on the source and spread of viruses”.

Residents wearing masks line up for a Covid-19 test outside the Worker's Stadium in Beijing on June 30. Test sites sprung up through the Chinese capital as frequent nasal swabs have become normal after the latest outbreak of the coronavirus. AP Photo

An empty box office at the China Film Cinema in Beijing, which was closed due to the new coronavirus outbreak in Beijing. Reuters

Security guards patrol outside the Dizhi Hall cinema, which was also closed. Reuters

People wearing face masks are seen on a street, following a rise in cases in Beijing. Reuters

A resident makes a gesture as he lines up for a test outside the Worker's Stadium. AP Photo

People wait in line for the nasal swab PCR test. China's capital partially lifted a weeks-long lockdown that was put in place to head off a feared second wave. AFP

A woman adjusts a young girl's face mask as they wait in line. AFP

An Air China plane sits on the tarmac at Beijing's Capital International Airport, which was nearly empty on June 30. AFP

An almost empty terminal 3 at Capital International Airport. AFP

Passengers in full protective suits make their way to their gate at terminal three. AFP

People line up in the heat for a test. Reuters

A security guard is swabbed a testing station in Beijing. AFP

Beijing has tested about 8 million people. Reuters

A woman walks through the wet market in Guangzhou, China. China races to contain a second wave of coronavirus cases mostly in Beijing. EPA

Wet markets have come under particular scrutiny following the coronavirus outbreak in late December, 2019. EPA

President Donald has harshly criticised the WHO over its response to the coronavirus pandemic and accused it of bowing to Chinese influence. Mr Trump said in a White House announcement that Chinese officials “ignored” their reporting obligations to the WHO and pressured the organisation to mislead the public about an outbreak that has now killed more than 130,000 Americans.

In comments Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Beijing’s response to the virus outbreak showed the ruling Communist Party has an “enormous credibility problem” and that its actions fitted a pattern of behaviour that threatens freedom, democracy and the rule of law.

“I am convinced more than ever that the free peoples of the world will come to understand the threat that’s presented not only internally inside of China, but importantly, that the impact that General Secretary Xi has on the world is not good for free peoples and democracy-loving peoples,” Mr Pompeo told reporters.

The Trump administration formally notified the UN on Monday of its withdrawal from the WHO, although the pullout won’t take effect until July 6, 2021. That means it could be reversed by a new administration or if circumstances change.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, said he would reverse the decision on his first day in office if elected.

Health officials and critics of Mr Trump’s administration say the withdrawal would cost the US influence in the global arena while undermining an important institution that is leading vaccine development efforts and drug trials to address the coronavirus.

The US is the WHO’s largest donor and provides it with more than US$450 million per year, but owes about $200 million in current and past dues. Those financial obligations must be met before a US withdrawal can be finalised.

Apart from the WHO, China and the US have tangled over human rights, China’s crackdown on dissent in Hong Kong and Xinjiang and its assertions of sovereignty over strategic waters and islands in the South China Sea. The two are also engaged in a protracted trade dispute amid allegations China is forcing companies to hand over technology or stealing the knowledge outright.

Updated: July 9, 2020 08:25 AM

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