IFS (Retd.) & Advisory Council
The WHO draft resolution sponsored by 61 nations, including India, is an eye-wash, as it lets China off the hook completely. There is no call in it for any independent investigation into Covid-19 origins. China or Wuhan is not mentioned directly or indirectly in the text. The words “transparency” and accountability” are missing too. That would explain Russia’s support. India had no reason to opt-out of an anodyne draft. With China now supporting it, there is no reason for Beijing to be upset by India’s position.
The word “as appropriate” is mentioned in critical parts of the draft, which provides a lot of discretion in implementing the operative paragraphs. Even data is to be shared “as appropriate”, which implies that China has no obligation to share the data at its disposal as the source of the virus. WHO is to work, not with China, but with the World Organization of Animal Health and the Food and Agriculture Organization to identify the zoonotic sources of the virus and its transmission to the human population through “scientific and collaborative field missions” to reduce the risk of “similar events and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs” etc.
Australia had shown considerable political grit in pursuing its call for an independent investigation into the origin of the virus and seeking transparency, notwithstanding boorish diplomatic threats of trade sanctions by China and opposition from domestic business circles tied to the Chinese market. The EU, which has China-friendly member countries, has been ambivalent about putting China on the mat, which is why even in the G7 meeting, US pressure to identify Wuhan as the source of the virus was resisted to the point that no joint statement could be issued.
The EU-led proposed resolution reflects this disinclination to press for transparency and an independent international probe. Its foreign affairs spokesperson has opposed playing any blame game when the immediate need is to focus on combating the virus. The upshot of all this is that China, while imposing heavy tariffs on Australian barley exports, has mocked Australia on losing the battle for an independent probe. China has no doubt scored diplomatically in the tussle at the WHO, and may feel emboldened to continue its disruptive policies.
The world order is in a flux, and growing US-China rivalry will shape its contours. China as the source of the virus and the US as its biggest victim will get increasingly locked in confrontation, which has become broad-based with technology denial moves by the US. Trump has made a strategic error of alienating the Europeans, whose active cooperation is needed to curb China’s ambitions. New world order is not for tomorrow; the present fluidity will continue, with the US and China as the principal protagonists. The impact of China’s hegemonic ambitions on India will remain a serious problem, requiring, as before, engagement and hedging. While lines with China should remain open, the links with the US, Europe, Japan, Australia and others who have concerns about China’s authoritarian rise should be strengthened.