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COVID prevention,immunization top agenda at G20

By William Jones | | Updated: 2020-11-24 17:19
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United Nation Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, conducts virtual press briefing from his office in New York ahead of the annual G20 Summit World Leaders to take place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Nov 20, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

The G20 is no doubt one of the most important political gatherings of the year. The organization was created in the aftermath of the 1997 financial crisis to bring the most important economic countries of the world together to deal with global financial crises. With the growth of economic might of countries like China and India, the Trans-Atlantic-centered G7 was no longer sufficient to deal with the growing global financial and economic crisis. Since its founding, the G20 has broadened its field of interest, particularly after the Hangzhou Summit in 2016, the first G20 to be chaired by China, where there was a clear thrust to reform the international system, which, after the 2008 crisis, had dramatically revealed its flaws.

Because of the second surge of the coronavirus in most of the countries of the world, this year’s G20 Summit, chaired by Saudi Arabia, had to be conducted online. While economic issues were clearly on the table during this year’s meeting, held Nov 20-21, the major topic of discussion was the continued spread of COVID-19. And as we begin to see the development of an effective vaccine, the real question remains how the vaccine can be effectively distributed in the needed quantity worldwide to create the needed level of immunity for countries to open up their economies.

Most of the leaders were in agreement that such a vaccine had to be made available to the world at large regardless of where it was developed. China and other countries have already signed on to the COVAX facility, a global plan for sharing vaccines that was set up by the World Health Organization, the EC, and France. And China has reiterated that commitment to share, particularly with regard to developing countries.

While the US has made no commitment other than working to get the promised vaccines rapidly developed through support to companies like Pfizer and Moderna, President Trump’s decision to leave the World Health Organization has cast a pall over any US commitment to share the vaccine until a majority of the US population has been vaccinated. Some countries, wary of the possibility that any US-produced vaccines would be quickly available to them, have already contracted agreements with these companies to purchase a certain amount of the vaccines produced.

Most of the other countries, however, have expressed strong support for making any vaccine available widely, knowing that COVID cannot be defeated unless it is brought under control globally. The issue was broached at the beginning of the Summit in the comments by the host, Saudi Arabia’s King Salman. Saudi Arabia had also hosted a special G20 Summit on COVID earlier this year.

President Xi addressed the meeting several times. In his opening remarks he underlined the importance of countries working together and in tandem to deal with the crisis, taking with him the theme of multilateralism and solidarity, which he had addressed earlier in the week at the annual ASEAN and APEC conferences. He reiterated China’s commitment to make any vaccine broadly accessible to the world and proposed building a “global firewall” against COVID. In a meeting on climate change, he reiterated China’s commitment to being “carbon free” by 2060.

Xi also underlined the importance of restoring the industrial supply chains by reducing tariffs and other obstacles to trade. It is along these supply lines that vaccines will be transmitted globally. In that context, he also underlined the importance of debt relief for the developing countries, who have enough difficulty in keeping their heads above water in tackling the pandemic. He also floated an important proposal for introducing medical QR codes on peoples’ cellphones so that those traveling from country to country would have with them an electronic “bill of health” to assure customs they were COVID-free. This procedure is widely and successfully utilized in China, but may be met with skepticism by some countries, which are unduly affected by the “China threat” propaganda in the Western media. This shows the need for quickly countering the prevalent anti-China bias in the Western press to achieve that global health community that President Xi had proposed at the G20 COVID Summit earlier.

In addition, the Chinese president underlined the need for reforming the global international architecture, enhancing the UN-centered system. The post-World War II system, which was built on the assumption that the US and Western Europe would always remain at the center of world decision-making, is in urgent need of reform. And the slow and disjointed response to the coronavirus, which has taken the lives of over 1 million people worldwide, gives dramatic testimony to the need for that reform.

William Jones is a Washington political analyst and former EIR White House correspondent. He also is a non-resident fellow of the Chongyang Institute for Financial Studies.

The opinions expressed here are those of the writer and do not represent the views of China Daily and China Daily website.

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