U.S. Bid to Single Out China at UN Stalls Amid Wider Effort

(Bloomberg) -- A Trump administration effort to blame China for spawning the coronavirus has stalled for now at the United Nations Security Council, with other countries focused exclusively on urging joint global action to fight the pandemic.

UN members Indonesia, Ghana, Singapore, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland are proposing that the 193-member General Assembly adopt a text calling for “international cooperation and multilateralism” and recognizing “the central role of the United Nations” in coordinating the global response to “control and contain the spread of COVID-19.”

The effort comes as the five permanent members of the council -- Russia, China, U.K., France and the U.S.-- have struggled to agree on a resolution partly due to U.S. insistence that the text include a reference to the coronavirus originating in Wuhan, China and some comment on China being responsible for worsening the global outbreak.

While talks continue, agreement is unlikely unless the U.S. backs down from those demands, according to two diplomats who asked not to be identified.

Russia, meanwhile, is circulating an alternative General Assembly text that calls for international collaboration but also for ending “unilateral coercive measures undertaken without the mandate of the Security Council,” in a jab at U.S. sanctions.

President Donald Trump has frequently referred to the disease sweeping the world as “the China virus,” though he’s since said he’ll stop doing that, while Secretary of State Michael Pompeo continues to regularly call it “the Wuhan virus.”

The discord at the UN comes after the U.S. failed in a push to include language critical of China in a joint statement with Group of Seven members.

A State Department official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the UN Security Council has an important role to play in combating the global pandemic but that members of the council must recognize the threat that China’s mishandling of the outbreak posed.

China’s mission to the UN didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

Citing Disinformation

The continuing finger-pointing over the virus and its origins came as the State Department says it’s tracking social media accounts originating in Russia, China and Iran that have all been propagating disinformation about the crisis. That has included the false claim that the the pandemic originated in the U.S., said Lea Gabrielle, head of the State Department’s Global Engagement Center.

“It is really sad to see state actors taking advantage of a global health crisis to try to push their own agendas,” Gabrielle told reporters in a briefing on Friday.

More recently, the U.S. has seen China move away from the narrative that the U.S. somehow started the spread of the virus in Wuhan, possibly because the claim wasn’t well-received by audiences, according to Gabrielle. She said China is now shifting toward messaging that China is acting responsibly and playing an important role in fighting the spread of the virus.

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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