Our recent blog discussed what happend to the human rights lawyer, Zhang Xuez-Hong, that was “taken away”. Now Australia’s national front line push for an an independent inquiry into the COVID-19 has seen international backing. A resolution calling for an impartial, independent and comprehensive evaluation of the responses to the pandemic has officially been co-sponsored by 62 countries, including India, Japan, Britain, Canada, New Zealand, Indonesia, Russia and all 27 EU member states.

After weeks of highly secretive negotiations, there has been a European Union motion to be set 48 hours before the World Health Assembly heads into a tense round of meetings. A global inquiry into the epidemic has talks of having 120 countries to co-sponsor on their next meeting. While only a two-thirds majority is technically required, motions at the World Health Assembly are usually adopted by consensus. The emphatic and unprecedented  international support for an independent inquiry will isolate China if it chooses not to support the move.

Some Federal MPs and Senators have been cheered by the international support for the inquiry, with our former Cabinet minister Matt Canavan saying Australia had been “massively vindicated” by the “outpouring of support from other countries in the world”. China’s Ambassador to Australia has previously declared that if Australia was to push for this investigation that there could be trade ramifications


It is alleged that China has begun a trade dispute with Australia due to this push for the inquiry. It is using access to our huge markets as leverage in its campaign to try and deflect the blame for this pandemic. This isn’t the first time they have allegedly done this on governments, as was in the case from Norway to Canada in political disputes over the past few decades. This was also similar in the case of the Chinese human rights lawyer that went missing. Currently there is an 80% tariff on imports. The legal issue that arises is that, given that both states are members of the World Trade Organisation, this move by China may be put under review by the body. Federal Agriculture Minister David Littleproud said that Australia will not retaliate regarding the tariffs. Trade Minister Simon Birmingham indicated that things might escalate as Australia reserved the right to appeal against the tariffs at the World Trade Organization.

Australia, a middle-power of international relations, is one of the first countries to slow down the spread the virus. This position has been a key mechanism to lead the world to of the crisis. This position has frustrated China, which has a form of wolf diplomacy to shape the narrative of their handling of the virus.

Although Prime Minister Scott Morrison stated that Australia was “standing our ground on our values” in calling for a global review, Australia would work through the trade dispute with China. While Beijing had originally opposed the calls for an independent review, this position has now softened in recent times due to the pressure by the international community. They have also pledged to standardise the wet markets where the virus has allegedly emerged.

China’s President Xi has claimed that he will put $3.1 billion over the next two years to help with the epidemic. He also claims that now is not the time to do the inquiry but rather fix the epidemic.


Mr Xi’s stance was backed by UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said the most urgent priority was to defeat the outbreak.

“Once we have finally turned the page on this epidemic, there must be a time to look back fully to understand how such a disease emerged and spread its devastation so quickly across the globe, and how all those involved reacted to the crisis,” he said.

“Now is not that time. Now is the time for unity, for the international community to work together in solidarity to stop this virus and its shattering consequences.”

World Health Organisation chief Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus vowed to “initiate an independent evaluation at the earliest appropriate moment to review experience gained and lessons learned”.

Tensions rise as Australia waits to see what such an independent evaluation will bring.

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