By BILL CHAPPELL (NPR.org)
CHINA — China’s President Xi Jinping is defending his country’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying it has acted openly and responsibly in sharing information with the international community.
Speaking at a World Health Organization conference via video, Xi said that if China succeeds in developing a vaccine, it will share it widely.
“All along, we have acted with openness, transparency and responsibility,” Xi said. “We have provided information to the WHO and the relevant countries in a most timely fashion.”
Xi said China released the genome sequence of the virus “at the earliest possible time” and shared its experiences in attempting to control and treat the disease.
During his roughly 10-minute speech to the World Health Assembly, Xi also embraced the idea of a formal review of the response to the pandemic — although he did so in broad terms, and with the stipulation that it should be led by the WHO, and after the pandemic is over.
The remarks follow President Trump’s frequent criticisms of both China and the WHO — remarks that increased as the number of reported cases and deaths in the U.S. outpaced any other country in the world.
Trump has accused the WHO of depriving the scientific community of essential data, saying it failed to obtain virus samples from China. Last month, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s Health Emergencies Programme, stated, “The virus was identified on January the 7th. The [genetic] sequence was shared on the 12th with the world.”
Trump has also said the WHO is too deferential to China, saying the country was slow to share details about how the virus works and sought to minimize early portrayals of an epidemic that has now killed more than 300,000 people worldwide. Both the WHO and China have denied those claims.
The U.S., the largest single donor to the WHO, has paused its funding, pending a review. The U.S., Australia and a number of other countries have called for an investigation into the origins and early response to the pandemic; proposals for undertaking that review will likely come up for a vote during the World Health Assembly sessions.
Xi did not specifically refer to any of Trump’s criticisms on Monday. But he said the pandemic has exposed “weaknesses and deficiencies” in the global health system, and that a review could improve how the world responds to a future pandemic.
“China supports the idea of a comprehensive review of the global response to COVID-19, after it is brought under control,” Xi said, saying that an inquiry should compare countries’ experiences and address any problems.
The WHO should lead the review, the Chinese leader said, adding that it should be “based on science and professionalism” and “conducted in an objective and impartial manner.”
Xi said China will provide $2 billion over the next two years to help the global response to the pandemic and boost social and economic activity, particularly in developing countries.
Xi also said that if China succeeds in developing a vaccine, it will be declared “a global public good.”
“This will be China’s contribution to ensuring vaccine accessibility and affordability in developing countries,” Xi said.
By referring to the vaccine as a “global public good,” the Chinese leader echoed language in a resolution put forth by dozens of countries in Europe, Africa and elsewhere — but not backed by the U.S. — that deems widespread immunization against COVID-19 as a global public good to end the pandemic.
The resolution calls on countries to commit to the idea of a “people’s vaccine” — stating that any cure for the coronavirus that has ravaged families, communities and economies worldwide should be declared patent-free and distributed widely and fairly.
“The big issue is that the U.S. so far is not on board with that” resolution, NPR’s Jason Beaubien reports. “The White House is pushing what they’re calling Operation Warp Speed, which explicitly says that it’s a Manhattan Project to develop a COVID vaccine for the American people.”(ia/NPR)