Fact Check
Stop politicizing health issues
By Lan Xinzhen  ·  2021-06-07  ·   Source: NO.23 JUNE 10, 2021
Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, the opening of the 74th session of the World Health Assembly (WHA) took place via video link on May 24. The assembly highlighted such issues as pandemic responses, the World Health Organization (WHO) reforms and budgets, among other topics.

However, even before the convening of the assembly, certain countries had already claimed they would file a request with WHO to investigate China regarding the origin of the novel coronavirus. They intended to use WHO as a tool to mount political pressure, for example by proposing to allow China's Taiwan to attend the assembly, which only allows sovereign countries and regions to participate, and seriously violated China's territorial sovereignty. 

Although WHO was somewhat distracted by these disruptions, on the whole, it was able to stick to its original agenda, without falling into the U.S. trap.

Common desire 

During the WHA, WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus called for affirmative action from all sides to increase accessibility to vaccines and end the pandemic as quickly as possible. Representatives from many nations thanked China for offering vaccines and assistance in the fight against the coronavirus, and assembly topics covered public health emergency prevention and drug resistance. Their remarks boiled down to the common aspiration of the international community: To put an end to the pandemic as soon as possible.

For more than a year the ravaging pandemic has been taking a heavy toll on society. To rein in the virus, the most effective practice is the worldwide rollout of coronavirus vaccines to build up a shield against the virus.

The most pressing problem now is the inequality in vaccine distribution. In the mindset of vaccine nationalism, some countries have hoarded large amounts of vaccines, storing them in warehouses and in doing so hampering the large-scale rollout of the jabs. WHO statistics reveal that 75 percent of the world's total coronavirus vaccines are currently held by 10 countries, whilst vaccinations in the lowest-income countries account for less than 0.5 percent of the world's total. This will not help with an early containment of the virus.

In his speech delivered at the Global Health Summit on May 21, Chinese President Xi Jinping hailed the aspiration and concept of building a global community of health for all. Guided by this concept, China has already distributed 300 million doses of vaccines to the rest of the world, making it the biggest provider of all. The country is now ready to, within the limits of its power, offer more doses to those in need.

The concept has pointed out the path the international community should take to plug the "vaccine gap" and end the pandemic sooner rather than later. Other vaccine developing and manufacturing countries should also follow suit and provide more vaccines to those developing countries. Multilateral financial institutions, too, should provide inclusive financial support for the vaccine procurement of developing countries. WHO, in turn, must step up its efforts to push forward COVAX. The international community at large, then, urgently needs to set up an international forum on vaccine cooperation for vaccine developing and producing countries, companies and other stakeholders to explore ways of promoting the fair and equitable distribution of vaccines around the world.

The Chinese representative briefed the assembly on China's successful experience in containing the virus and called for all sides to pursue multilateralism, join forces in the fight against this common foe, and ensure equal access to public products like vaccines and testing kits for all.

The pandemic is yet another reminder that we as humanity rise and fall together with a shared future. Confronted by a pandemic like COVID-19, we must champion the vision of building a global community of health, as no country has proven immune to the pandemic. If people around the world can receive their vaccinations at a quicker pace, the pandemic could be curbed sooner, while the world economy could also accelerate its pace toward a new normal.

Leaky theories 

The U.S. representative repeatedly stressed "transparency and independence," pressuring WHO to probe deeper into to the origins of COVID-19. Although China was not singled out, it's self-evident that the U.S. was finding fault with China in the name of virus roots. Before WHA, U.S. officials and media had already embarked on their condemnation of China regarding the pandemic's beginnings and fervently touted the so-called "lab-leak theories." They lambasted the Chinese for the nation's "opaqueness," and demanded a second investigation into novel coronavirus origins.

Earlier this year, WHO experts already conducted an investigation into virus origins and their report pointed out that any "introduction through a laboratory incident was considered an extremely unlikely pathway." However, still, the U.S. has not yet relinquished its narrative of attributing the virus origins to a lab in Wuhan, China.

Why is the U.S. adamantly perpetuating its anti-scientific practices, always trying to make use of WHA to pressure WHO into knocking down China? The U.S. seemingly means to subdue China and at the same time distract the public's attention from its botched responses to COVID-19 at home.

Based on the presumption of guilt, the U.S. insisted that the novel coronavirus had originated in China and consequently compelled WHO to dispatch a mission to China in search of evidence. One can already predict that for quite a long time to come, the U.S. will try to rattle China by referring to the origin of the novel coronavirus.

However, the U.S. miscalculated things at WHA. As WHO experts had already finished their comprehensive origin investigation in China, the U.S., however, whipped together some of its allies to label the mission's report as "lacking independence and transparency," putting its own political objectives above the scientific integrity shown by WHO mission. 

Politicizing doomed to fail 

The 74th WHA refused to include the Taiwan-related proposal in its agenda. This fact shows that certain countries' plans to contain China by bringing up the Taiwan issue are doomed to fail. 

Only sovereign states are entitled to attend WHA. In accordance with the purpose and principle of the UN Charter as well as WHO rules, China's Taiwan must follow the one-China principle if it wants to attend WHA, after negotiations across the Taiwan Straits. However, the Taiwan authorities refuse to recognize Taiwan as a part of China, stripping it of all political rights to attendance. 

Certain countries tried to coerce WHO to allow Taiwan's participation by claiming that its absence makes for a hole in the world pandemic prevention network. 

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, China's Central Government has repeatedly informed the island on the development of the disease, approved health experts from the island to attend technical activities, and so on. There is a liaison office of International Health Regulations in Taiwan, which ensures the exchange of information between the island and WHO. Thus, its absence will not open up any gaps in the prevention network whatsoever.

Before the opening of the assembly, more than 150 countries had expressed their support for China's decision through diplomatic channels and more than 80 had already sent out letters to WHO to stress their commitment to the one-China policy and their opposition to Taiwan's involvement in WHA.

As an inter-governmental health organization, WHO is designed to prevent and treat pandemics and epidemics, and provide or help to improve training in the areas of public health, disease treatment, etc. It's better for certain countries to focus on the standard functions of WHO and do more to enhance public health, rather than trying to use WHO to interfere with China's internal affairs. BR

Copyedited by Elsbeth van Paridon

Comments to lanxinzhen@bjreview.com

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