In a virtual speech at the 75th annual U.N. General Assembly on Friday, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison praised the World Health Organization (W.H.O.) for establishing an independent panel to investigate the true origins of the Chinese coronavirus, which he said Australia had “strongly advocated for.”
“I’m pleased that the W.H.O. has established an independent panel to evaluate the global response [to the Chinese coronavirus]. There is also a clear mandate to identify the zoonotic source of the COVID-19 virus [Chinese coronavirus] and how it was transmitted to humans. Australia strongly advocated for this review,” Morrison said.
“This virus has inflicted a calamity on our world and its peoples. We must do all we can to understand what happened for no other purpose than to prevent it from happening again. When the resolution was put to the World Health Assembly in May, a record 145 countries were co-sponsors,” the prime minister noted.
In April, Australia joined the U.S. in leading an international call for an independent investigation into the true origins of the Chinese coronavirus. World leaders and health experts have accused China of attempting to cover up its poor handling of the virus’s initial outbreak in Wuhan, China, late last year. The international community has accused China and the W.H.O. of corroborating on the alleged cover-up, initially lying to the world about the virus’s contagiousness and severity. This, critics argue, allowed the Wuhan epidemic to snowball into a pandemic.
Upset by Australia’s support of the independent coronavirus investigation, Beijing imposed retaliatory trade restrictions on Australian products, such as barley and wine, starting in May. In response, Canberra has pushed for tighter restrictions on foreign investors in Australia, citing national security concerns. Australia’s restrictions are largely viewed as targeting China, traditionally the country’s top trading partner.
“As an outward-looking, sovereign, trading nation, Australia also values the rules and institutions that enable international trade,” Morrison said in his U.N. speech on Friday.
“We value rules that protect sovereignty, peace, and security, and curb the excessive use of power,” he said, addressing China’s illegal attempts to control as much as 90 percent of the South China Sea. Over the past several months, Beijing has taken advantage of the distraction caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic to ramp up its belligerent behavior in the sea. It has increasingly bullied other nations out of exploring natural resources within their own exclusive economic zones, launched aggressive military drills, and bolstered its illegal military outposts on other nations’ reefs and islands.
“As Australians, we also prize respect for international law and the peaceful resolution of disputes through dialogue. This includes ensuring that competing territorial and maritime claims are based on, and determined in line with, international law, including the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS),” the prime minister added.
Morrison referred to a 2016 court ruling by an independent arbitral tribunal established under UNCLOS. In the landmark case, brought by the Philippines, the international tribunal at the Hague found Beijing’s claims to nearly the entire South China Sea had no legal basis. China has rejected the ruling, and in recent years has brazenly pushed forward with its illegal claims of sovereignty in the sea.