Support for COVID-19 probe could push China into a corner
Powerful global leaders including the UK, Russia, India and Japan are among a coalition of 62 nations supporting Australia's call for an independent inquiry into the coronavirus ahead of a vote at the World Health Assembly.
The demand for an "impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation" of the international health response to COVID-19 is expected to be the most controversial motion in a draft resolution written by the European Union, due to be put to the Assembly Monday morning AEST.
It tasks World Health Organisation director general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus with launching the evaluation "at the earliest appropriate moment" to review the "lessons learned" from the deadly pandemic.
The Australian government does not expect China to oppose an inquiry into the origins of coronavirus on Tuesday, senior Morrison government sources said.
While they won't know for certain until the motion is called, Australian government officials do not expect Beijing to oppose the motion which now has the overwhelming support of over 100 countries.
Australia was an early supporter of the draft resolution, which, in addition to having the support of the EU's 27 member states, also has the backing of 35 other countries.
The inquiry motion does not mention the origins of the coronavirus, but does call on the "actions of WHO and their timelines pertaining to the COVID-19 pandemic" to be among the issues examined.
It also does not set out a specific method for an inquiry, suggesting using "existing mechanisms" for review as an option.
The review would then make recommendations to "improve global pandemic prevention, preparedness, and response capacity".
Foreign Affairs Minister Marise Payne said there was "positive support" for an independent review into the pandemic to help the world "learn the lessons necessary to protect global health".
"This is about collaborating to equip the international community to better prevent or counter the next pandemic and keep our citizens safe," Ms Payne said.
"Australia and a significant number of countries are co-sponsoring the EU-led resolution, which includes a call for an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation, to be presented at this week's World Health Assembly meeting."
The resolution also calls for global co-operation and collaboration to step up at "all levels" to "contain, control and mitigate the COVID-19 pandemic".
It specifically highlights a need to provide people with "reliable and comprehensive information" about the coronavirus and measures being taken by authorities in response to the pandemic.
With conspiracy theories and fake miracle cures for COVID-19 increasingly spreading online, the resolution asks countries to counter "malicious cyber activities" peddling this misinformation.
The EU motion recognises the critical role of "extensive immunisation" against COVID-19 as a "global public good for health" once a safe, effective and affordable vaccine is available.
The draft resolution is being proposed by a host of nations, including some of the most powerful, such as Russia and the UK, as well as Australia, Japan and South Korea.
Who's on board
Albania, Australia, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bhutan, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Guatemala, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, Monaco, Montenegro, Mozambique, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Paraguay, Peru, South Korea, Moldova, Russian Federation, San Marino, Sierra Leone, South Africa.
TRADE MINISTER'S INVITATION TO CHINA GOES UNANSWERED
It comes as Trade Minister Simon Birmingham tried to set up a phone call with his Chinese counterpart to sort out a growing trade rift between the two countries, but so far there has been no response.
China is threatening to slap a large tariff on Australian barley imports after it blocked beef imports from four abattoirs.
Such actions have come within weeks of Australia calling for an inquiry into the origins of the coronavirus pandemic, sparking a furious response from China.
"We've made a request for me to be able to have discussions with my Chinese counterpart," Senator Birmingham told ABC television's Insiders program on Sunday.
"That request has not been met with a call being accommodated at this stage."
However, he said there has been lots of government-to-government communication and work continues through diplomatic levels.
He said the government has lodged a comprehensive response to China's 18-month investigation into barley dumping, rejecting the suggestion that the Australian industry is subsidised.
"The idea that somehow the payments that the Australian government makes to upgrade irrigation infrastructure in the Murray-Darling Basin in any way impacts on barley prices in China, just doesn't stand the test of any analysis," the minister said.
"Our barley that goes to China is largely a product of dry land irrigation, predominantly coming out of Western Australia and the west coast of South Australia. It's not coming out of the irrigated areas of the Murray-Darling Basin."
He said he may be forced to take the issue to the World Trade Organisation if China presses ahead with its threat.
Australia has used the WTO to settle disputes as an independent umpire in the past with other valued partners around the world in recent years - with Canada in relation to certain wine practices and India over sugar.
Originally published as Support for COVID-19 probe could push China into a corner