More than 120 nations have expressed support for an independent inquiry into the global response to the coronavirus pandemic, which will likely shine an unflattering light on China.
A draft resolution to bring about the investigation is being circulated among diplomats. It is being prepared for a meeting of the World Health Assembly — part of the United Nations — due to take place next week.
The resolution was drafted member states of the European Union, following an initial proposal by Australia for an investigation specifically aimed at China.
A draft version of the resolution listed 123 nations that had signaled their support. In order to pass, the bill requires a two-third majority of the 194-member assembly.
China has objected to the motion, saying Monday it was too early to begin such an investigation.
The explicit focus on China has been dropped, but Australian officials say they believe the scope of the resolution still allows for sufficient scrutiny of China, where COVID-19 first began to spread in the city of Wuhan.
Australian Foreign Minister Greg Hunt, as quoted by Australia’s ABC News, said he “expected it to be endorsed” in the coming two days at the conference, which is largely being held remotely.
The text of the resolution calls for an “impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation” of the “international health response to COVID-19.”
It does not explicitly mention China, and has been watered down from the Australia proposal. However Australian government sources told ABC that the wording is strong enough to ensure “a proper and thorough investigation.”
The virus originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan in November before spreading to other countries, causing swaths of the global economy to shut down as part of lockdown measures.
Many experts believe the virus originated in a “wet market” in Wuhan, where live animals are sold and slaughtered among fresh produce.
The fallout from the crisis has caused conflict within the World Health Organisation, which is governed by the World Health Assembly.
The US has pulled its funding from the WHO, accusing it of being too soft on China and accepting Chinese misinformation as the disease began to spread.
Australia’s initial call for a probe had been adamantly opposed by China, with Beijing last week responding by imposing punishing tariffs on barley and beef imports, placing barriers before Australia’s access to its biggest agricultural export market.
The draft resolution has already received support from nations like Albania, Bangladesh, Belarus, Bhutan, Botswana, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, North Macedonia, Norway, Peru, Republic of Korea, Russia, San Marino, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Turkey, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland and Zambia among others.