Azar Uses UN Podium to Make Veiled Jab at China on Pandemic

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U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar took a veiled swipe at China during a speech to the United Nations on Friday, arguing that the “necessary information” on Covid-19 was not shared in a timely fashion when the virus first appeared.

Speaking virtually, Azar refrained from mentioning China by name, but told world leaders at a UN General Assembly session on the pandemic that “the key issue is not where the virus first appeared, it is whether information about the virus was shared in a timely and transparent way.”

“Sadly, some countries have also attempted to take advantage of the pandemic to pursue economic, diplomatic, or security gains with hard-hit countries,” he told the UN via video.

The U.S. and China have increasingly clashed on a broad range of issues and fronts, from the early handling of the virus to Chinese-owned technology companies to a clampdown on dissent in Hong Kong. Speaking on Thursday, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi touted Beijing’s intention to make a vaccine a “public good” while urging major countries to collaborate to end the pandemic.

China announced in October that it would take part in a program backed by the World Health Organization to distribute vaccines to developing nations. President Donald Trump began the process of pulling the U.S. out of the organization and his administration refused to join the program, called Covax.

This isn’t the first time that Azar has taken a harsh stance on China. In August, he became the most senior American official in more than four decades to visit Taiwan, a trip that angered the Beijing government.

His UN speech comes as the U.S., in the final weeks of the Trump administration, has not let up on efforts to punish China, further straining a relationship already roiled by trade conflicts and tense geopolitical competition. Secretary of State Michael Pompeo said in November that the U.S. was “not finished yet” when it came to getting tough on China, describing the country’s Communist Party as a “Marxist-Leninist monster” whose rule is “authoritarian, brutish and antithetical to human freedom.”

Without naming the U.S., UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Thursday hinted during the pandemic session that the Trump administration holds some responsibility for the virus’ devastating impact, referring to countries that didn’t adhere to the WHO’s guidelines.

“From the start, the World Health Organization provided factual information and scientific guidance that should have been the basis for a coordinated global response,” he said. “Unfortunately, many of these recommendations were not followed. And in some situations, there was a rejection of facts and an ignoring of the guidance.”

President-elect Joe Biden said he intends for the U.S. to rejoin the WHO.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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