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G-7 foreign ministers spar over coronavirus amid pandemic

by Ace Damon
G-7 foreign ministers spar over coronavirus amid pandemic

WASHINGTON (AP) – Ministers of Foreign Affairs of the Group of the 7 major industrialized democracies on Wednesday discussed the possibility of calling China a source of the coronavirus pandemic.

Gathered by videoconference because of the outbreak, the ministers agreed on the need for joint efforts to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus, which causes a disease called COVID-19. US and European diplomats said the ministers were unable to agree with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo's request that the virus be identified by name as the "Wuhan virus".

As a result, just a day after the G-7 finance ministers and central bankers issued a joint statement regarding the COVID-19 virus, foreign ministers chose not to release a statement from the group. US officials pointed to Tuesday's statement by finance ministers to reject suggestions for disunity from the G-7 and said foreign ministers never intended to issue their own statement.

European officials said Pompeo insisted on identifying the COVID-19 virus as the "Wuhan virus", although the World Health Organization and others have warned against the geographical name because of its global nature. In recent weeks, Pompeo has stepped up the use of the "Wuhan virus", accusing China of putting the world at risk for not revealing more details about the outbreak, which was first reported in the city of Wuhan.

Until very recently, President Donald Trump often referred to the new coronavirus as the "China virus" or the "Chinese virus", but since the beginning of this week he has departed from those terms, as critics claim to promote discriminatory feelings and behavior against Asian and Asian Americans.

At an individual press conference after the meeting, Pompeo referred again to the "Wuhan virus", saying it was "the most pressing agenda item". He said that all foreign ministers "have pledged to fight it transparently, as needed around the world." He did not deny that there were disagreements over what to call a virus, but said that all ministers acknowledged that China had not released its details from the beginning and was now trying to change the narrative.

"All the nations that were at that meeting this morning were deeply aware of the disinformation campaign in which the Chinese Communist Party is committed to trying to divert what has really happened here," said Pompeo.

Other foreign ministers were not so emphatic in their own comments about the meeting, with at least one leaving open the suggestion that China is not the only country trying to use the outbreak to advance political points.

French Foreign Minister Yves Le Drian said in a statement that “he stressed the need to combat any attempt to exploit the crisis for political purposes and expressed the opinion that the unity of all to effectively combat the pandemic must now prevail about any other considerations. "

Disagreement over the terminology of the virus was first reported in the German publication Der Spiegel. German officials said they were more concerned about what would come from a virtual summit of the leaders of the Group of 20 nations, to be held on Thursday at the request of Saudi Arabia.

Meanwhile, American officials underestimated the disagreement among foreign ministers and pointed to Tuesday's G-7 finance ministers' statement that it did not mention "Wuhan" or "China" regarding the virus and instead In addition, he referred to it repeatedly as COVID-19 virus.

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