Xi calls for unity on fighting COVID-19 after EU deal stalls

Chinese President Xi Jinping speaks at the online Global Health Summit from Beijing on May 21.   © Xinhua/Kyodo

CK TAN, Nikkei staff writer | China

SHANGHAI — Chinese President Xi Jinping urged nations at a Europe-led health forum Friday to focus on fighting the COVID-19 pandemic together rather than playing politics, one day after ratification of Beijing’s investment deal with the European Union stalled.

The Global Health Summit in Rome was organized by the European Commission and Italy, the current Group of 20 chair.

“We should uphold the vision of building a global health community, tiding over this trying time through solidarity and cooperation, and firmly reject any attempt to politicize, label or stigmatize the virus,” Xi said, addressing the summit from Beijing through a video link.

The European Parliament voted Thursday to suspend the legislative process for ratifying the China-EU Comprehensive Agreement on Investment. This deferral was seen as a setback for Xi, who pushed to conclude the sweeping deal in December amid the U.S.-China trade war.

The parliament’s vote was intended to compel China to lift sanctions on some European lawmakers and think tanks. China enacted these sanctions in a tit-for-tat move after the bloc accused Beijing of human rights violations against the Uyghur Muslim minority in the country’s western region of Xinjiang.

Xi told the health forum that “political manipulation” will only disrupt international cooperation against the coronavirus and bring greater harm to people worldwide.

China will provide $3 billion in aid for developing countries to fight the pandemic, Xi said. This is in addition to the $2 billion dished out last year for the same purpose.

Developing countries have called on COVID-19 vaccine-producing nations to transfer the necessary technology. Xi said his government will support such endeavors by Chinese companies through joint production. China also is willing to back any decision by the World Trade Organization to waive intellectual property rights on vaccines, he said.

So far, five Chinese vaccine producers have signed local production deals with nine countries including Brazil and Indonesia, according to Chinese media Global Times.

Xi touted Beijing’s role in fighting the pandemic, saying China had provided free vaccines to over 80 countries and deferred debt repayment of over $1.3 billion under the Group of 20 Debt Service Suspension Initiative for poorer nations.

Participants at Friday’s summit include the G-20 nations as well as representatives from the United Nations, World Health Organization, WTO and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

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