Geopolitics cast shadow over WHO Covid-19 conference

China is set to be challenged on two of its most sensitive issues: its initial handling of the virus and the status of Taiwan’s participation

Photo: Getty World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus

The coronavirus pandemic was supposed to be the only issue on the agenda for the World Health Organisation's (WHO) annual conference, but geopolitical tensions are taking the spotlight instead, as the two-day talks start on Monday.

In particular, China is set to be challenged on two of its most sensitive issues: The Communist Party’s initial handling of the virus and the status of Taiwan’s participation.

Ahead of the World Health Assembly of 194 WHO member states, which will take place online this year, the United States campaigned to allow Taiwan to take part as an observer again after a three-year absence. But Washington's rival China has been blocking Taiwan's participation since 2017, as Beijing considers the island democracy to be part of its territory.

The US and Taiwan have drummed up backing from Japan and some European countries including Germany, as well as from Caribbean and Central American countries.

The issue is expected to lead to diplomatic wrangling, as most African countries back the position of China, which has established itself as a major investor on the continent. The Taiwan issue is only one way in which Washington has been challenging its global rival China at the WHO.

US President Trump has suspended funding of the UN health agency in Geneva, accusing it of helping Beijing cover up how widespread and how dangerous the COVID-19 coronavirus disease was after it broke out in the Chinese city of Wuhan late last year.

And while the US has launched a daily barrage of attacks on China, including suggesting the virus escaped from a laboratory in the central city of Wuhan, the European Union and Australia are set to play a key role pushing for a probe into the virus’s origin.

More on this subject: Coronavirus

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