Chinese President Xi Jinping has told the World Health Assembly his country supports the idea of a “comprehensive review” into COVID-19 “after it is “brought under control”.
The Chinese leader spoke at the virtual session of 194 countries convened by the World Health Organisation (WHO) at the invitation of Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus on Monday.
He told the 194 member states the virus “does not respect borders” and “race and nationality” is not relevant in the face of the disease.
President Xi said the virus “caught the world by surprise” but backed China’s information sharing record, saying it provided timely information for the WHO.
“I mourn for every life lost and express condolence for the bereaved families,” he said.
“We also need to continue supporting research into source and transmission routes of the virus.”
The director general will also deliver an address on the COVID-19 pandemic and the WHO’s role in bringing countries together to fight the spread of the disease.
It comes as more than 100 countries have thrown their support behind an independent inquiry into the COVID-19 pandemic.
The key item on the agenda will be the draft resolution proposed by Australia, New Zealand, the UK and EU member states, among several other countries, into the source of the virus.
While the motion doesn’t specifically mention China, it has been met with anger by officials, and has apparently led to threats of economic repercussions.
It calls for the WHO leader to work with the UN and other organisations to “identify the zoonotic source of the virus and the route of introduction to the human population, including the possible role of intermediate hosts.”
The aim is to “reduce the risk of similar events as well as to provide guidance on how to prevent SARS-COV2 infection in animals and humans and prevent the establishment of new zoonotic reservoirs, as well as to reduce further risks of emergence and transmission of zoonotic diseases.”
Nearly five million people have been infected with COVID-19 around the world with more than 315,000 deaths. The US is the worst-hit country so far and President Trump has repeatedly blamed China for allowing the virus to spread.
Australia first proposed a global inquiry into the source of the pandemic last month which China said it was “firmly opposed to” at the time.
“Since the outbreak began, China has always acted in an open, transparent and responsible manner and taken a series of resolute, timely and forceful measures,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
It also lead to threats of a Chinese boycott on Australian products like food and tourism.
The president’s speech has been interpreted by some as a positive sign China might support a WHO investigation into the origin of the virus, although it came as a shock to most pundits.
Ahead of the meeting China’s foreign ministry said it was premature to launch an investigation into the origins of the virus.
Spokesman Zhao Lijian said the vast majority of countries believed the pandemic was not over yet.
“The time is not ripe to immediately start the investigation and virus tracing,” he said in Beijing.
The European Union’s diplomatic chief, Josep Borrell, urged European nations to maintain “collective discipline” in the face of China.
“Developing a joint EU approach to superpowers is never easy,” former Spanish foreign minister Borrell wrote in an article published in several newspapers.
“And the China case is no exception. What’s more, China is not shy about sometimes playing on these differences. But surely it is up to us Europeans to maintain the necessary collective discipline.”
On Monday, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said he was hopeful China would back the motion.
“I hope that China will participate,” he said.
“I hope China will come on board at the World Health Assembly, joining many, many other nations in supporting the obvious need for an inquiry into COVID-19, its origins, its handling right across the world.
“Because we’ve had a circumstance where hundreds of thousands of people have died, millions of people have lost their jobs, billions of people had their lives disrupted, and the least the world can expect is an inquiry that allows us to learn the lessons so that we can try to avoid a repeat of this in the future.”