73th World Health Assembly: China’s Xi Jinping to address first ever virtual key WHO meeting; to face angry coronavirus-hit nations

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Updated: May 18, 2020 4:18 PM

Xi was invited by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to give a video speech at the opening ceremony of the 73th World Health Assembly, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

73th World Health Assembly, Xi Jinping, WHO, WHO virtual meeting, Xi Jinping, coronavirus pandemic, European Union, Australia.,latest news on coronavirus outbreakThe president will speak hours after China’s foreign ministry said the timing wasn’t right for an investigation into the virus’s origins, which is being urged by the European Union and Australia. (File photo: Reuters)

Chinese leader Xi Jinping will address the World Health Organization’s decision-making body as it commences its annual summit Monday in Geneva, amid rising acrimony over his country’s early handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Xi was invited by WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus to give a video speech at the opening ceremony of the 73th World Health Assembly, the official Xinhua News Agency reported.

The president will speak hours after China’s foreign ministry said the timing wasn’t right for an investigation into the virus’s origins, which is being urged by the European Union and Australia.

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“The vast majority of countries believe that the epidemic situation is not over,” ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a regular briefing in Beijing, responding to a question on whether China supports an inquiry into an independent investigation. Anti-epidemic cooperation “is a top priority,” he said, “so the time to immediately start reviewing and tracing the virus’s origins is not yet ripe.”

Taiwanese Foreign Minister Joseph Wu said on Monday that Taiwan was dropping its campaign to be included in this week’s assembly as the proceedings had been shortened due to the virus, and would resume it later in the year when meetings would be conducted normally.

The Taipei government had made a vocal effort to be included in the WHA proceedings, saying the island — which has been praised for its handling of the epidemic — needed access to firsthand information about the spread of the virus.

A U.S.-backed bloc had also pushed for it to attend the meeting as an observer, angering China, which views the island as a province.

“Understandably, countries want to use the limited time available to concentrate on ways of containing the pandemic,” Wu said in a statement. “After careful deliberation, we have accepted the suggestion from our allies and like-minded nations to wait until the resumed session before further promoting our bid.”

Commanding Support

The showdown reflects a wider geopolitical struggle between the U.S., its allies and China, whose authoritarian system is under scrutiny as the pandemic devastates the world’s economy.

Xi’s appearance comes as U.S. President Donald Trump — under fire at home over his own handling of the virus — has escalated attacks on China, with an aide going so far as to say the Chinese government sent airline passengers to spread the infection abroad. The U.S. suspended funding for the WHO, claiming it was biased toward China, and has even suggested setting up an alternative body.

Senate OKs Bill Calling For Taiwan to Regain WHO Observer Status

Despite the anger in some parts of the world over China’s response to the pandemic, analysts expect that it will still command support from a large swathe of the nearly 200 countries taking part in the assembly this week, as they need solid relations with Beijing to shore up domestic growth.

Wu on Monday expressed “deep regret and strong dissatisfaction that the World Health Organization Secretariat has yielded to pressure from the Chinese government and continues to disregard the right to health of the 23 million people of Taiwan.”

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