EU to call for independent investigation into COVID-19 origins, spread

The move comes amid fierce war of words between China and US

European Commission spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson

The European Union will put forward a proposal to the World Health Assembly calling for an independent probe into the origins of the coronavirus - a move its foreign policy chief described as "standing aside from the battlefield between China and the US."

Bloc's 27 Member States will co-sponsor the resolution calling for an independent investigation, which will be put forward at the assembly’s 18 May meeting, European Commission spokeswoman Virginie Battu-Henriksson told the South China Morning Post on Tuesday. The bloc is consulting with World Health Organisation members and regional groups on the wording of the proposal, she added.

“The draft resolution envisages calling for an independent review on lessons learnt from the international health response to the coronavirus, to strengthen future global health security preparedness,” Battu-Henriksson said. "A thorough understanding of the epidemiology of the coronavirus pandemic is essential for public authorities to make informed decisions.". 

According to Battu-Henriksson, the proposal, which stresses the importance of a “multilateral response with global solidarity and coordination,” has been welcomed by other WHO diplomats and NGOs. Negotiations will continue this week.

Meanwhile, in an interview with France’s Le Journal de Dimanche, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell spoke on the importance of an independent investigation. The probe needs to step aside “from the battlefield between China and the United States, who blame each other for the events in a bid that has only exacerbated their rivalry,” he said.

At the meeting of the WHO's decision-making body, the United States and other nations will also push to reinstate Taiwan as an observer to the assembly - a move that will likely irk China, which has worked for years to exclude Taiwan.

The move for an independent investigation comes at a time when China has been facing increased scrutiny over its actions during the early days of the outbreak. Since then, Beijing and the United States have been locked in a very public and heated battle over the origin of the novel coronavirus, which has infected more than 3.6 million worldwide.

Most recently, China's state-run media took multiple digs at US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, accusing him of lying, being an "evil" person who spends his time "spitting poison," after he claimed on Sunday there was "enormous evidence" that the coronavirus spread from a lab in Wuhan. His comments echo ones made from President Trump, who also said over the weekend that China had something to hide and that he had personally seen the evidence against the country.

When asked to elaborate during a Fox News town hall, he declined.

China has also had some harsh words for its trading partner Australia, after the country call for an independent inquiry into Beijing. Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne has said an independent tribunal with powers similar to United Nations weapons inspectors should be allowed to enter Wuhan, where the outbreak first emerged late last year. Canberra has further riled China by calling for the end of wildlife sales in so-called wet markets, one of which was one of the first places in Wuhan where the virus was detected.

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